We’re a Family Now: Setting Sibling Expectations

Family with preemie and sibling, Courtesy Whitaker Family

Photo credit: Whitaker Family

by Laura Romero, Family Support Navigator

The baby is here and life has transformed. The addition of this baby is going to bring lots of change into the family, especially if the baby was born prematurely and spent time in the hospital NICU. The new baby will require lots of care and attention as he or she continues to grow and get used to life outside of the womb. The needs of a medically-fragile infant can be demanding and often parents have little time to devote to siblings in the home.

Setting expectations as a family is extremely important in helping all members of the family transition to life with this new bundle of joy. The following is a list of suggestions for things you can do as a family to prepare for this time in your life:

  • Expect questions and be prepared with answers.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Spend time discussing the changes that have and will continue to happen. Discuss with siblings what babies do and what they need.
  • Expect to see some changes in behavior or possibly even regressive behaviors.
  • Prepare for a rollercoaster of sibling emotions. They may want to be involved with the baby one minute and not want anything to do with the baby the next. Allow siblings to have choices about when and how long they will interact with their new brother or sister.
  • Be willing to adapt old routines and create new ones. The demands of caring for the new baby will need to be incorporated into the family’s routine and will change the way things are done.
  • Plan to spend time discussing safety and care issues as a family. This is a great time to reinforce hand washing with younger siblings as well as cautioning siblings to not put anything near the baby’s mouth. Make sure everyone understands safe sleep practices.
  • Expect to be frustrated and overwhelmed. Taking care of a new baby along with your other children can be frustrating and overwhelming. Take it slow and remind yourself that this is a learning process for everyone, even the baby. It will get easier.
  • Don’t expect things to be perfect. You and your family members are going to make a few mistakes and many things will not go as planned – but before you know it you’ll be experts in your family’s needs.
Build a network of support for yourself and your family, especially if you know baby may be arriving early or baby has arrived early. Having friends, family and healthcare providers to lean on will give you a reliable assistance to turn to when you need them to care for your newborn, your older children and yourself. Having a baby born early or with a medical need is especially challenging. Taking the time to prepare your older children as much as you can for how family life will change will go a long way toward easing the transition of your growing family.


Rector, Linda (2007). Supporting Siblings & Their Families During Intensive Baby Care. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.

Anne Claire Hickman, CCLS, CIMI, Child Life Specialist at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas (Personal Communication, June 9, 2012).

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