Helping siblings adjust to the NICU

Helping siblings adjust to the NICU

As part of our family-centred care approach, we want to help you take care of the needs of your older children with baby brothers or sisters in our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). It is important to support your other children and make sure they know they are loved and cared for, too.

Supporting siblings in the NICU

Having a sick or premature baby in the NICU can be made easier for your children if you explain why their baby brother or sister is staying in the hospital. This is best done in simple words with only a few details. You can tell them the baby isn’t ready to come home from the hospital yet and must stay until they are well enough and/or big enough to come home.

It may also help to let them know their baby brother or sister is being well cared for by the doctors and nurses.

Children may need to talk about their feelings. Normal and common feelings can include:

  • Anger – the new baby is getting all the attention
  • Confusion – not understanding what is wrong with their baby brother or sister or why he or she has to stay in the hospital
  • Embarrassment/shame – the new baby is different from other babies
  • Fear – worry that the baby will not get better, fear of parent’s actions (crying, yelling)
  • Guilt – feeling that the illness or prematurity is their fault
  • Loneliness – mom and dad are not home as much, and they are left with a babysitter more often

Taken from the Life’s Little Treasures website.

Storybooks can be a useful way to help explain to siblings what is happening with their baby brother or sister and what they can expect when they visit the NICU. In our NICU, we have two books available to borrow: No Bigger Than My Teddy Bear by Valerie Pankow and Waiting for baby; A sibling visits the NICU by Jennifer Bracci. We also have the Super Sibling Colouring Book.

Children may change their behaviour, which can be normal while your baby is in the NICU. Children may go through changes such as:

  • Acting out to get attention or relieve stress
  • Being well behaved to win back your love/attention or make things better
  • Having trouble eating or sleeping
  • Complaining of feeling hurt, sick or in pain
  • Bed wetting or other bathroom problems
  • Acting younger than they really are
  • Withdrawing from you or other family members

If this lasts a long time or keeps getting worse, ask your child’s family doctor or paediatrician to suggest resources that may help.