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I remember being so conflicted when my Haley was in the NICU. She was our second child. We were used to giving all of our attention to our son Jacob. Now not only did we have two kids to love and care for, but they were in different locations. Trying to learn how to divide our time was a difficult balancing act and took some trial and error. Different things work for different families. What worked for me may not work for you. Don’t give up, you’ll find your stride.
We were so lucky that while I was in the hospital after the birth of our daughter, my parents and my brother and his wife took care of our son. He loved having the attention of 4 adults, two being his Aunt and Uncle whom he doesn’t see often because they live far away. They took him shopping and to playgrounds and out to eat and anything else special they could do to help him not miss having mommy and daddy around. It was a total blessing to have them around. My advice to those who don’t have family around is to encourage whoever is watching your older siblings to make it a special time.
Here are some little things you can do to help your older siblings feel special and included – these helped my son feel like he was a part of his sister’s life:
- Have them bring your kids to visit you if your hospital allows it.
- If they are old enough, take them to meet the baby. (Unfortunately our Jacob was too young to go in to meet his sister, but we did take him to see her through the window in the NICU.)
- Show them pictures and talk to them about the baby. (Jacob made a picture for Haley that we taped to her isolette.)
- Let them feel included in knowing what’s going on. (We helped Jacob pick out a little doll that stayed next to her bed.)
Once I came home I had to find our new routine. At first I went to the NICU whenever I could. I did find this was becoming hard on Jacob. He didn’t know when I would be home and was starting to feel abandoned. I learned the best time to go visiting was in the afternoon while he napped. So I arranged a schedule with friends and family who offered to babysit to come and sit here while he napped. It was easy for them. They could read or knit or relax and watch TV while he napped. Thankfully he was a good napper. Find a time that works in your schedule but try to keep it the same everyday. Kids thrive on schedules. It really helps them to be able to predict what will happen next. So knowing when mommy and daddy are going to be out spending time with their brother or sister helps them feel more comfortable with it. My husband and I would visit together in the evening after we put Jacob to bed. Whoever came over to watch him at night often would sneak him out for a little bit of special time. Again something little, but it made him feel so special and loved.
My last tip is to get involved. If your hospital has any special programs for siblings of babies in the NICU, take advantage of them. Often times these programs are fun and educational. Ours had coloring activities, and games to help the kids learn more about how the babies are cared for in the NICU. The kids who were old enough were also able to visit their sibling at the end of the program. If your hospital doesn’t have a program like this, see if they might be willing to start something or if there are any NICU sibling support groups locally you might be able to look into.
Having a baby will change your family. Having a preemie, or sick baby in the NICU, will change it in different ways. It doesn’t have to mean your other children are forgotten or left out. Take time to find your own routine, what works for you. Before you know it, it will all be a distant memory.