Caring for Older Siblings While a Baby Is in the NICU

April 12, 2013

Jackson holding his sisterMy son was two and a half when his little sister was born at 34 weeks gestation and required a NICU stay due to a blood disorder. She was only in the hospital for a short time, but the challenges of caring for my toddler while balancing the needs of my baby in the NICU was extremely  challenging. While friends and family rallied to provide support, it was difficult for my son to understand why our baby had to stay at the hospital.

Like parents, siblings need support, encouragement and information to navigate the challenges associated with a NICU stay. It’s common for siblings to worry that they caused the baby to be born early. They might think they said or did something that caused the baby to be sick. Little ones are also very perceptive and may think that it is their fault that their parents are sad. And because for many little ones, a hospital is a scary place, they may worry that their brother or sister might never get well.

Hand to Hold believes that siblings are special. Our goal is to provide the resources, education and support necessary to ensure they believe it, too! From Sibling Sundaes (educational hours complete with songs, games and ice cream to help educate siblings about the NICU) to book recommendations for parents and resources that provide parents with age appropriate answers to their child’s most pressing questions, Hand to Hold is dedicated to easing the burden of a NICU stay for the entire family.

Giraffe Coloring Page - English Giraffe Coloring Page - SpanishIn collaboration with General Electric Healthcare, Hand to Hold has produced a series of Sibling Activity Pages, to not only provide siblings with something fun to do while visiting the NICU but to help educate them about their baby brother or sister’s NICU stay. These activity pages include a coloring page, dot to dot, find the giraffes and more.

Available later this year, Hand to Hold will introduce a guided NICU video tour just for siblings also supported by GE Healthcare. (UPDATE:  Access the English video tour and the Spanish video tour.)  Hospital policies vary greatly. Often, siblings are not allowed to visit their brother or sister and may wait many months to meet them. Hand to Hold’s NICU video tour, narrated by my son and NICU graduate, Jackson Kelley will offer siblings an inside peak into the NICU. From the proper way to wash your hands to understanding the roles of medical staff and function of medical equipment, siblings will have a new understanding of who is taking care of their baby and hopefully feel less anxious about the health of their brother or sister.

Navigating the emotional and physical challenges of a NICU stay is never easy. When parents must juggle the added responsibility of caring for older siblings, even a short NICU stay can be daunting. Hand to Hold understands these challenges and will continue to strive to provide meaningful support for everyone in the family.