Preparing Siblings for Visiting the NICU

Mom and dad aren’t the only ones who expected to bring a new baby home from the hospital.  Siblings have also been prepared for the arrival of a baby brother or sister, and often struggle with visiting the newborn in the hospital.  There are several things parents can do to prepare their older children for that first visit to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Be as honest as possible with your children, since kids overhear and see more than adults realize. Parents often feel the need to protect their other children by not providing a lot of information, but kids’ imaginations can run wild in the absence of facts.  Providing age-appropriate updates on baby’s care can actually help mitigate stress and anxiety when visiting the NICU.

Talk to siblings about what they will see and hear in the NICU. They may see a lot of people, but they’re all there to help the babies. Tell them how the baby will look. Although it’s a quiet area of the hospital, they may hear unexpected noises, like beeps from a monitor or a humming from a ventilator. Remind little ones that these machines and noises are there to help the nurses care for the baby.

Before siblings are allowed in the NICU, they must:

  • Wash hands
  • Speak in a quiet voice
  • Use gentle touches, if permitted to touch the baby

Kids should also be up-to-date on vaccinations, and not have a runny nose or any other symptoms of an illness.

Reading certain age-appropriate books with information on and pictures of NICUs can also help prepare siblings before they visit the NICU for the first time. Several books used by CHOC Children’s Child Life Specialists are:

Before their first NICU visit, big brothers and sisters can participate in medical play activities organized by child life specialists. Being able to touch and see the same items that are used on the baby can help them prepare for and process what they’ll see.  For more information about programs offered for siblings, please call 714-509-8473.

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