UK

Would you let your children watch you give birth?

Jamie and Jools Oliver with their five children outside hospital Image copyright PA
Image caption Daisy Boo (far left) and Poppy Honey (far right) lined up for a family snapshot outside London's Portland Hospital after playing their part in their brother's birth.

Jamie Oliver and his wife Jools announced the birth of their fifth child over social media. But along with the pictures of their new son came the news that the couple's two eldest daughters were there to watch their mum give birth.

The TV chef described the event as "amazing to witness, very very emotional" while his wife told of how the two girls, 14-year-old Poppy Honey and 12-year-old Daisy Boo, cut the cord.

To many people, the idea of inviting children to watch childbirth may sound odd, if not a little extreme. But according to midwives an increasing number of parents want their older offspring to be part of the event.

Parents clearly happy to boost the numbers at the bedside argue that it helps the family to bond, prevents older children becoming jealous of the new baby, and hopefully passes on a positive message about the process of giving birth.

In the US, sibling involvement has been a growing craze, with parenting blogs giving tips on how to make it a joyous occasion and Youtube videos documenting the whole experience.

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Media captionVivien Pettitt explains why she let her daughter watch her son's birth

And the idea is gaining popularity in the UK. Mum Viviene Pettitt told the BBC that her four-year-old daughter Jessica loved being at the birth of her baby brother Luke.

"It was amazing and she was absolutely brilliant. She had a dummy and a 'blankie' with her and she gave up her 'blankie' to help with the birth. She was the first to hold Luke."

Viviene said she prepared Jessica by showing her some online footage so she knew some of what to expect.

"[Luke] was quite a big baby as well. He was 11lbs and there were paramedics everywhere.

"If she [Jessica] doesn't become a midwife I would be surprised."

Image copyright Jamie Oliver

Other parents are more sceptical. "My birth and the aftermath were definitely not child-friendly!" one mum posted on Twitter.

Child and family psychologist Dr Mair Edwards says it all depends on what kind of delivery it is.

"If the birth is going well and everything is going to plan then it can be a fantastic experience," she says.

"The problem is if it isn't a smooth birth there can be panic and that can be really traumatic. Some fathers say they can be quite traumatised by the sight of their partner in labour.

"As a mum you've also got to be comfortable with people watching you. It's a very personal choice."

It's certainly true that childbirth has become more of a family experience. Jump back a few decades and you would struggle to find an expectant father at the bedside for the birth of their children. Now 90% are there to support their partners, the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) reports.

'Support and preparation'

But when it comes to having children present, the NCT says its key piece of advice is to prepare in advance.

"A child of any age will need some preparation for the experience. No matter how wonderful it can be to watch their sibling being born, it can also be a confronting experience for a child to see their mother in pain or losing blood," NCT Senior Policy Adviser, Elizabeth Duff says.

A home birth is a popular option for parents who want to involve their other children but they are advised to tell them what noises they might hear, and what they might see if they come into the room.

"Having another trusted adult - such as a grandparent - present or very nearby is important so that if the child gets upset, changes their mind or complications arise then they can leave quickly."

Of course this all assumes that you have the time to prepare. The tricky thing with babies is that like most deliveries, they don't always have a guaranteed date and time of arrival.

But don't fear, there is no evidence to suggest a child seeing a birth results in long-term trauma. As Jacque Gerrard, the Royal College of Midwives' director for England says: "With the right support and preparation, why shouldn't children be involved?"

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