Helping Siblings Cope with the NICU

Helping siblings cope with the NICUWhen one child is hospitalized, it can affect the entire family. A patient’s siblings can feel confused, jealous, angry, or even guilty over the hospitalization of their brother or sister, especially when it’s a new baby.

Toddlers and preschoolers can have an especially hard time coping with mom and dad being away. To cope with this jealousy, try to keep their daily routine as normal as possible. Spending one-on-one time with the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) baby’s older sibling is important for maintaining a sense of normalcy. Even brief amounts of regular time can help maintain a sense of fun and family.

No matter their age, it’s important to remind siblings that it’s not their fault that new baby is in the NICU. Sometimes little minds can run wild, and it’s essential to remind them that they did nothing wrong to cause their brother or sister to stay in the NICU.

Parents can address some of siblings’ most common questions about the NICU:

  • “Why is the baby so small?”
    • Babies stay in their mommy’s tummy for nine months so they can grow and get ready to come out. But some babies come too soon and don’t have enough time to grow inside mommy’s tummy. They are very tiny because they came too fast.
  • “Why is my baby in a box?”
    • Educate little ones that incubators are special beds for small babies to keep them safe.
  • “What are all these machines?”
    • Tubes help get the food right to the baby’s tummy so they don’t have to do any work.
    • The baby is small and needs to rest, so tubes help the baby take deep breaths without having to do any work.
    • These machines are helping the baby.

Giving a “job” to siblings can also help them cope and make them feel like they are contributing to the baby’s care. When they’re at home, siblings can make a card or draw a picture that mom or dad can bring to the NICU. Remind siblings that the new baby knows their brother or sister’s voice, so reading or singing quietly to the baby can let them know they are there. Sibling education classes can teach big brothers and sisters how to help mom and dad change a diaper, or feed a bottle to their new baby brother or sister.

Siblings are able to participate in special activities organized by CHOC Children’s child life specialists. Volunteers are on-call to play with siblings or escort them to organized activities when mom or dad needs to be alone with the NICU baby. For more information about other ways CHOC Child Life can help families navigate their experience in the NICU, call 714-509-8473.

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Caring for a Seriously Ill Child – Effect on the Family

marta-sonCaring for a seriously ill child can be a tiring and emotional process.

“Meeting your critically ill family member’s needs is a major part of care, but your needs are just as equally important,” according to CHOC Pediatric Critical Care Specialist Dr. Paul Lubinsky.

“If you are well, you have the physical and emotional strength to support your family member and feel good about it. Take time to understand your family member’s illness and treatment options. Having this information will help you make decisions, feel confident about the decisions made and reduce stress. Ask questions, ask to meet with the care team, and keep a journal. Review the journal with a member of the care team whom you trust to make sense of what has happened and how you are responding to it. Progress often is unrecognized without a definitive timeline. Participating in patient care is another way to support your family member and reduce stress. The bedside staff can suggest activities for those who want to be involved.”

Here are some more detailed suggestions and tips for parents, grandparents, relatives and others involved in the care:

  • Eat healthy.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Exercise, take a walk or stretch your limbs periodically.
  • Seek support and accept the help and support of family and friends.
  • Keep a positive attitude.
  • Use your faith and engage in spiritual activities, such as meditation or prayer.
  • Read inspirational material.
  • Keep a journal of thoughts and feelings about your child’s progress.
  • Ask a family member or close friend to take messages or to be a representative for you.
  • Organize a network to help with the activities of daily living. Make sure someone looks after your house and pets, and checks your mail and phone messages when you are not at home.

The illness of a child can also affect others in the family, especially siblings. Here are some things to look for or consider with them, so you can reach out for help and develop strategies to deal with any issues that may arise:

  • Children in the family may feel responsible for a sibling’s illness because they had a sibling rivalry or there were tensions between the children in the past. There are a variety of therapists at the hospital available to help.
  • The other children may feel ignored or that you are favoring the sibling who is ill by spending so much time in the hospital.
  • Children may act out or may regress, such as losing bladder control.
  • School performance due to a prolonged disruption in family life.
  • Appoint spokespeople to provide accurate updates or start a blog to keep extended family or close friends informed.

Addressing these issues with the help of a specially trained psychologist or child life specialist, is often helpful. Family therapy may also help in dealing with the stresses of a seriously ill child. CHOC has a strong psychology department that can help, Dr. Lubinsky says.

The Role of Parents and Family in CHOC’s Emergency Department

The idea of being apart from a child in an emergency situation is troubling for most parents. But there’s no need to worry at the Julia and George Argyros Emergency Department (ED) at CHOC Children’s Hospital: Here, parents and siblings are encouraged to stay with their patient throughout treatment.

As a staunch advocate of family-centered care, CHOC Children’s believes that a child’s family plays a critical role in treatment and healing. We know that a parent’s presence is the best coping mechanism around.

Parents’ and guardian’s input and presence are highly valued – and it shows in the design of our ED: Exam rooms are larger to accommodate family members, siblings and their strollers, and each room has a television to help distract restless little ones.

However, there may be times that only parents will be allowed with the patient due to the urgency of care needs. In general, parents should use good judgment when bringing siblings to the Emergency Department. A visit can be a long process, and small children might grow inpatient. Further, parents must be able to focus on their ill child: They’ll receive a lot of information, and will be asked many questions by our staff. Rest assured, however, because along the way, parents, patients and siblings alike will receive guidance and support from ED staff.

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New Webcam System Connects Parents with Babies in the NICU

No parent imagines having to leave the hospital without their newborn. For those parents who have to keep their little ones in the neonatal intensive care unit at CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital for treatment, however, there is now special technology to ensure families can be together and bond with their newborns when they can’t be at the bedside.

Baby Peyton Valentine and family were among the first families to enjoy the new NICVIEW webcam system in the NICU at CHOC Children's at Mission Hospital.
Baby Peyton Valentine and her family were among the first families to enjoy the new NICVIEW webcam system in the NICU at CCMH.

CHOC Mission is proud to be the first children’s hospital in California to offer the new NICVIEW webcam system. The system allows families to see real-time, live video of their infant remotely, from anywhere they can log on to the Internet.

“This takes family-centered care to a higher level,” said Liz Drake, clinical nurse specialist in the NICU at CHOC Mission, where the system went live on Aug. 21.

Katie and Andrew Hock of Ladera Ranch were among the first parents to benefit from the NICVIEW webcam system. Their daughter, Madeline, spent time in the NICU at CHOC Mission to be treated for respiratory problems after she was born on Aug. 16. The couple logged on to the webcam right away using their iPhones, and were able to look at their baby when they weren’t at the hospital.

“The camera gave me a sense of security, which is nice. I could see if she was still sleeping and her IV was still in,” said Katie, who along with her husband shared the password for their daughter’s video feed with their parents and siblings, including Katie’s sister who lives in Hawaii.

“The grandparents were addicted to seeing her all hours of the day,” Katie, a first-time mom, said with a laugh.

The NICVIEW webcam is easy to use with any major Internet browser. The information and video are secure, and only the baby’s family can allow other users to access the live video.

Users can view the baby at any time except when the baby is receiving nursing or medical care, or having a procedure. A webcam is mounted at every bedside in the NICU and families can opt in or out at any time, so use of the camera is up to them.

In addition to the bonding benefits of the NICVIEW webcam, there are also health benefits for the new parents and their newborn.

“If you can decrease the anxiety of a parent, you can reduce the overall stress of a hospitalization,” Drake said.

“Another benefit is for nursing mothers. It’s best for a mom to pump breast milk in front of her baby or a picture of her baby as this can help the mom produce more milk. When our moms are at home or can’t be here, this can help them pump with their babies in view. We’re creating a connection where they didn’t have one before,” Drake explained.

She added that the webcams are wonderful tools for military parents who are deployed overseas, and for out-of-state grandparents who can’t visit. It helps siblings at home who want to see their new baby brother or sister. They’re also great for moms who are visiting Orange County, and happen to give birth early or unexpectedly, and have family in another city or state who can’t visit.

Further, the webcams will help families bond with newborns in the NICU during flu season, when only the babies’ parents are allowed in the NICU for health safety reasons, Drake said.

“It’s wonderful. It’s amazing how far we’ve come with technology,” Katie said.

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