Friday, February 8, 2008


If you have other children, it can be difficult for them to fully understand why their brother/sister is in the NICU. This is especially hard if your child(ren) are too young to visit the NICU. My son was three when my daughter was born. With that experience I learned some tips that I hope you can use to make this time easier on you and your children.

1) Be general, not specific - Obviously they will want to know where their new little brother or sister is and why they aren't at home. Depending on your baby's situation and the age of your child(ren), let them know that their brother/sister is small/sick, etc. and needs to stay in the hospital for awhile. Let them know that there are doctors and nurses who are taking good care of their brother/sister. NICU stays can often last longer (or shorter) than you think so be careful about giving a timeline for when your baby will come (you can simply say that when he/she gets bigger, better, etc.)

2) Photo - To help them connect with their brother/sister, give them their own picture to look at. Depending on your baby's condition, you may need to be selective as to what picture you choose. We were worried about how our son would react to seeing our daughter covered with wires, tubes, etc. Luckily I had a wonderful friend who took a picture of our daughter and altered it so she was covered in a blanket and all the tubes and wires near her face were gone. Our son loved the picture - he carried it around for a long time. Eventually he saw the other (non-altered) pictures but the first picture was a good starting point.

3) Visiting the NICU - If your other child(ren) can visit your baby in the NICU, make sure you prepare them in advance. Show them pictures of what your baby looks like. Let them know that your baby is hooked up to monitors/machines that are helping him/her get better. Make sure that they know that they need to be quiet, stay by your baby's bedside and don't look around (too much) at the other babies. Most NICUs have specific rules about how often kids can visit - make sure your kid(s) know that ahead of time so they aren't expecting to visit every day.

4) Going to the hospital - When our daughter was first in the NICU, we took our son with us to the hospital to visit her. We would take turns - one person would visit our daughter and the other would stay with our son. It was tough at first but he got used to it fairly quickly. One of the keys to success was having him bring things to do. I would suggest creating a special "Hospital visit bag" with specific toys. Good options are coloring books/crayons, small toy figures, travel version of games, cars, trains, doll, etc. Anything that doesn't take up a huge amount of space because sometimes waiting areas can be full or small.

5) Gifts - Even though your baby is the NICU, you can still have your kids exchange gifts. We bought a "big brother" shirt for our son and told him it was from his sister - he loved it. He also had a great time picking out something for her. While your baby is in the NICU you can have your other child(ren) draw or color a picture for them. Hang the picture on the isolette or crib and take a picture so they can see it (or have them bring it in if they can visit).

Finding even small ways to keep your other kids involved and connected with your baby will go a long way towards a smooth transition from the NICU to home.

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