Including your other children in the NICU

KEY POINTS

  • Each NICU has policies about who and how many people can visit your baby. Ask NICU staff if you can bring your other children to visit your baby. 

  • Prepare your children before you take them to the NICU. Talk to them about what they’ll see and hear and what they’ll be able to do.

  • After their visit, answer any questions they have simply and honestly. 

  • Encourage children to make drawings or photo albums to show they care for the baby even when they can’t be with him.

What are the rules about having children visit a baby in the NICU?

Each newborn intensive care unit (also called NICU) has its own policies about children visiting a baby brother or sister. Ask the staff about the policy in your NICU. For example, the NICU may not allow young children to visit to keep them from passing infections to your baby or other babies in the NICU. Or the NICU may want to test visiting children for illnesses before they’re allowed in the NICU. 

How can you prepare children before they visit the NICU?

Many children can’t wait to meet their new brother or sister. But the NICU can be overwhelming and maybe even a bit scary for kids, especially the first time they go. Talk to them before they go to the NICU about what they may see and hear. Here’s what you can do to make their visits go smoothly:

Plan to keep visits short (less than 30 minutes). Some children may get bored quickly. Make sure another adult is there to help with visiting children so you can stay with your baby after they leave.

Describe what they may see. Tell your children what the baby looks like, including how big or small she is. Describe your baby’s bed and the equipment around her. Show your children pictures or videos of the baby, her bed and medical equipment. 

Explain what the NICU equipment does. The machines in the NICU may seem less scary if children know what some of them do. Here’s what you can say about equipment they may see with your baby:

  • An incubator helps keep the baby warm and protects him from harmful germs. An incubator is a clear plastic bed that helps a baby warm. 
  • A ventilator helps the baby breathe until his lungs get strong enough to breathe on their own. A ventilator is a machine that helps a baby breathe or breathes for him if he can't breathe on his own.
  • An IV (also called intravenous line) gives the baby food to help him grow if he’s too small or too sick to eat. An IV is a tube inserted with a needle into a baby’s vein. 
  • Tubes and wires attached to the baby don’t hurt him.
  • It’s OK for some NICU equipment to make noise. Some equipment has alarms that tell the baby’s providers that he needs care. 

Tell your children how to behave in the NICU. Here are some things they may need to know: 

  • They have to wash their hands when they get to the NICU.
  • Can they hold the baby now, or do they need to wait until he’s stronger? 
  • Do they have to stay by the baby’s bed and be quiet? Or can they can go to a hospital playroom? 
  • Who will take them home after seeing the baby?

After their visit to the NICU, ask if they have any questions about the baby or the equipment. Answer their questions simply and honestly.

What can brothers and sisters do at home to be part of your baby’s care?  

Here are some things your children can do to make them feel like they’re helping and loving their little brother or sister:

  • Make pictures to put up near the baby’s bed
  • Pick a favorite photo of them or your whole family to put near the baby’s bed
  • Choose a stuffed animal or other soft toy to take to the NICU
  • Make a photo album of pictures of the new baby
  • Create a story book about the birth of their new brother or sister
  • Help get the baby’s room ready for when the baby comes home

Last reviewed: August, 2017

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