Grandparents and the NICU

Baby in the NICU

Key Points

Your grandchild’s NICU stay may cause lots of feelings for you as a parent and a grandparent. 

Your support, patience and encouragement can help your grandchild’s parents during the NICU stay.

Doing things, like grocery shopping and taking care of older children, can be a big help to parents when your grandchild’s in the NICU.

What emotions are common when your grandchild’s in the NICU?

You may have lots of feelings when your grandchild has to stay in the NICU. You may feel:

  • Worried about your grandchild’s medical condition
  • Angry that your grandchild is sick
  • Worried about how everyone in the family, especially your own child, is coping
  • Frustrated by not being able to help or make things better for your grandchild or your own child
  • Pride and joy about your new grandchild

Share your feelings with your partner, other family members and friends. You may want to talk with a counselor or someone from your place of worship. Because your own child is dealing with emotions and stress that come with having a baby in the NICU, it may be hard for her to support during this time.  

What kind of emotional support can you give to parents when your grandchild’s in the NICU?  

Just like you, your son or daughter may have lots of strong feelings when their baby’s in the NICU. Here are some ways you can support the parents during their baby’s NICU stay:

  • Understand that the birth of a sick baby can create stress between family members. Not everyone feels the same way at the same time. Be patient, listen carefully and try to understand how the parents are feeling, even if you don’t feel the way they do. Understand that they may be stressed and overwhelmed, and they may get angry more quickly and often than usual.
  • Remind them that their baby’s NICU stay is not their fault. Many NICU parents, especially moms, blame themselves for their baby’s condition, even when nothing could have prevented it.
  • Respect their decisions about their baby’s care. Know that they’re doing what they think is best for their baby, even if you don’t agree.
  • Encourage them to spend time alone.  Offer to stay in the NICU with your grandchild so the parents can have some time together outside of the NICU.  
  • Tell them you admire how they love and care for their baby. Call or text them regularly to let them know you care. Your kind words and support make a difference in helping them cope.
  • Celebrate your grandchild’s birth by sending or giving cards and gifts, as you would with any new baby in your family.

What other things can you do to help parents when your grandchild’s in the NICU?

Your support outside of the NICU is just as important as you being with your family in the NICU. Here are some ways to help:

  • Offer to take care of other children. Older brothers and sisters may be worried about the baby and upset over not being able to be with their parents. Your love and support can make this time easier for them.
  • Ask the parents exactly what you can do to help. Do they want you to make meals, go grocery shopping, run errands or take care of the house?
  • Ask about the best time to visit the NICU. Ask how often you can visit or if there are times when they want or need you to be there. Offer to go with them to meetings with the health care team. Take notes at the meeting so you can help them remember what was said and any decisions that were made.
  • Offer to share updates about the baby with friends and family. Ask them for a list of people to contact and only share information that they ask you to.

Last reviewed: April, 2017