A growing number of hospitals say they are fielding requests from families to have children present during delivery, with many believing the experience makes older siblings less jealous.
In several studies, researchers have surveyed parents about the impact on siblings, and found mixed results, the Boston Globe reports.
Some parents said young children were scared by the blood, while others believed the experience created a bond with the baby that made siblings, especially only-children who are invited to be involved in the process, less jealous.
While the practice is not new (siblings have become more common at births in the US since the resurgence of midwives in the Eighties who encourage family participation), their presence is not widespread, and a pre-schooler’s attendance is considered extremely rare.
A survey of 69 hospitals in the Southeastern United States, published in the American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing in 2009, found that only 22per cent allowed siblings to observe during delivery.
Although many parents still find the idea squeamish, obstetrical nurses speculate that debate in online chat rooms has fueled interest in the option.
Some hospitals say it is impossible, with a limit of two observers, however many are relaxing policies to accommodate the parents’ requests.
With the total cost of a baby delivery in the US ranging from $500-$3,000 with insurance, to $25,000 without insurance, hospitals are competing for pregnant customers who want a more homely, less medical childbirth experience, and are growing more flexible in response.
Immigrants from cultures where the practice is customary also are having an impact.
Still, while hospitals are becoming more accepting of the practice, nurses say there are still many factors to take into consideration, including the disposition of a child.
Dr Toni Golen, medical director of labor and delivery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center said: ‘It depends on your child. You have to know your kid.’
The hospital usually requires each child in the delivery room be assigned to one adult in case the child needs food or needs to leave.’
A child’s lack of sophisticated understanding surrounding birth is the most common concern raised by mothers-to-be in online discussions.
Children might be frightened by seeing a parent in pain, leading the mother to become distracted and tense during delivery if their children are melting down or misbehaving.
At Emerson Hospital in Concord, Dr Jeffrey Riley, chief of obstetrics and gynecology, said that he has seen children ‘thrilled’ at watching the birth of a sibling.
However in other instances, ‘children were very confused about what was going on. They see their mother in distress and it’s concerning to them if they don’t understand it’s part of the birthing process,’ he said.
Cristin Bower, 28, who delivered at Emerson earlier this month, felt that the benefits of having her children present at the birth would far outweigh the disadvantages.
Mrs Bower had her children stand by her shoulders because she did not want them to see any graphic details, and her husband cut the umbilical cord. She later said the children were perfectly behaved.