Visits to Your Baby in the NICU
Having a sibling in the NICU is a difficult time for any child. Here
is some excellent advice for older brothers and sisters visiting babies
in the NICU.
The issue of siblings in the NICU is very important to me, because when
our 31 weeker was born, she had an older sister who had just turned three.
In fact, we had celebrated her third birthday while I was in the hospital
on bed rest. The NICU rollercoaster was very emotional for her, even at
such a young age. A baby sister was an abstract enough idea before she
was born, but when she arrived and was taken away someplace where Riley
couldnt see her, things became more difficult.
I remember the first time Riley came to visit me in the hospital after
her sister was born. Her dad had explained what had happened, but without
a baby to touch and look at, she was clearly skeptical. She crawled into
my hospital bed and pulled down my blankets to examine my belly. She asked
questions abut where her sister had gone and how she had come out. We
explained a little bit about my c-section, saying that the doctors had
taken her out through my belly because she had been sick. After carefully
examining my bandages, she felt confident that someone had indeed taken
her baby sister out, but where she was now was a whole different story.
Camden had arrived during RSV season, and our NICU didnt allow siblings
to visit unless they were over 12 and had passed a health screening. Riley
was only three, so a visit was out of the question. Instead, we took lots
of pictures which Riley liked to look at over and over. While she gradually
got used to the fact that her sister existed, explaining why she couldnt
visit was a whole different story.
When photos were no longer enough to satisfy her curiosity, we made a
short video of Camden during one of her care times. Riley was suitably
enthralled with the 5 minute video clip, and watched it dozens of times.
Then, when Camden was well enough to be held, we were able to bring Riley
to the lobby of the NICU to peek at Camden through the windows while one
of us held her. While seeing her sister was definitely a positive experience,
it brought on whole different lists of requests, like holding, feeding
and kissing Camden. Often, when these requests couldnt be granted,
there were tears and meltdowns.
Having a sibling in the NICU is a difficult time for any child. A child
of any age will be affected by the absence of parents while they spend
time visiting their new baby in the NCU. They often feel scared, and sad
that they cant participate. After months of being primed for their
new role as a big brother or sister, the new baby is taken away to an
unfamiliar place, and the entire family is put under tremendous stress.
Although they may not verbalize their feelings, your child may demonstrate
their stress by acting out, throwing tantrums or regressing in newly acquired
skills like potty training or sleeping through the night. Patience and
one-on-one time can be key in overcoming these problems.
In order to facilitate bonding whether your child can visit or not, encourage
them to draw pictures or make cards for the new bay. Help them pick out
a family photo or a photo of themselves to decorate your babys isolette.
Have them pick out a small stuffed animal, hat or outfit that help keep
the baby warm and loved. Share pictures and videos, especially ones of
the new baby and any treasured items your older child has picked out for
them, and encourage your child to talk about the new baby and ask questions.
If your child cant visit the NICU, schedule play dates with friends
while you are visiting the baby. Also be sure to schedule in some special
mommy or daddy time to help them feel less left out and forgotten.
If your child is able to visit the NICU, prepare them for what they will
see in the NICU by showing them pictures of the baby or by finding pictures
online of other preemies. Explain what the NICU looks like, and the kinds
of equipment they will see. Explain about IVs and other tubes and wires
connected to the baby, and that they dont hurt. Also double check
hospital visitation policies with your nurse to find out if sibling visitation
is limited to specific times or days. Find out if your NICU offers a support
group or NICU orientation for siblings. If so, sign them up before you
visit. Talk to them about what they will be able to do when they visit.
Tell them if they will be able to hold or touch the baby, help with a
feeding, or just watch and visit through the isolette. Depending on your
childs age, you may want to have your own orientation
at home before you go to the NICU. Pick a doll similar in size to your
new baby, and ask a nurse in the NICU if you can have a preemie diaper,
a preemie bottle/nipple or maybe even your babys old EKG or monitor
leads if youre around when they are changed. Use these items to
teach your other child about their baby brother or sister.
When your child is able to visit the NICU, schedule short visits at first.
Bring a quiet book or activity to entertain younger children while they
are at the bedside. You can even spend some time bonding with baby by
reading a book to both children. Pick a time to visit when the NICU is
usually quite. Avoid change of shift or the times when rounds typically
occur. Be patient, and be prepared to leave if your older child becomes
overly upset, bored or overwhelmed.
When you finally bring your baby home, dont expect siblings to adjust
easily to the change. Issues with tantrums or regressions may continue
for a while, just like they would when bringing a healthy baby home from
the hospital. Also, be aware of anxiety created by the NICU experience.
For many months after Camden came home, Riley was extremely protective
of her, and she would become upset if we left the house with the baby
because she was afraid we wouldnt bring her back.
Kristie McNealy is a preemie mom and the creator
of Preemie Expressions and Homecoming Announcements. Visit her website at