Hand to Hold's Official Blog: Written by Parents for Parents

Navigating the NICU When You Have Older Children at Home

nicu siblings, NICU, prematurity, sibling support, older siblings

Having a baby in the NICU is painful. There is a special, additional, layer of hell when you also have other children at home.

My daughter, Lorelei, had just turned five when her brother was born two months early. She lost her only child status in grand fashion.

There is no way to protect your older children from the situation completely, but there are ways to help them through.

• Ask what resources the hospital has available. Some hospitals have sibling activity days, busy bags, and a lending library. All of these things can be useful both for relieving the boredom of the NICU and for letting your child feel included.

• Keep the visits short. Nobody feels relaxed when you are having to manage a bored toddler trying to unplug things. Make sure to bring things to occupy the big kids. Coloring books, a tablet with headphones, stickers, etc. Check with your hospital to see what is allowed.

• Stay connected. Try to get out and spend some one-on-one time with your older children. Perhaps a date for ice cream date or to the movies.

• Take time to listen. Each night before bed I would ask Lorelei if she had anything she wanted to talk about. It was a great time to process what was worrying her, or to simply discuss the relative merits of whatever cartoon she was in love with at the moment.

• Read books. Help explain the situation by buying or borrowing age-appropriate books on the subject. No Bigger Than My Teddy Bear was a favorite of ours.

• Find a special lovey. We created a family of Build-a-Bear Workshop stuffies. I made one for my daughter to have with her when I could not be there and she made one for both me and for her baby brother.

• Get them involved. Let them make keepsakes for the baby. Drawings, notes, or small crafts are all great ideas to keep kids entertained and involved.

• Keep childcare providers up to date. If your children are in school, make sure their teachers are kept in the loop. It is helpful for them to know what is going on, so they can help you help your child. Make a connection with your school counselor as well.

Check out the Hand to Hold Sibling Support page. They have lots of great book recommendations and resources for siblings of all ages.

If you feel you or your child are really struggling, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help.

Rhiannon Giles About Rhiannon Giles

Rhiannon Giles is an overwhelmed mother who only occasionally considers giving her children to the circus. Her daughter, born in 2010, was a full term induction due to Cholestasis of Pregnancy. Because she likes a full range of experiences she went with partial abruption and severe Preeclampsia for her second pregnancy. Rowan was born in 2015 via an urgent c-section at 31 weeks and 5 days, and spent 40 days in the NICU. Rhiannon has a sarcasm problem and writes regularly at rhiyaya.com . To keep up with new posts and see some of her favorites, join her on Facebook. To read more about Rowan's story, head over to rowan.small.and.mighty.


  1. This is a great article. Our preemie was number 5. Yep, I had 4 kids at home (all term babies) when our daughter was born. I was out of the home for 6 months (2 months in hospital before the birth and a 4 month NICU stay). One thing that really helped was keeping teachers in the loop. One teacher stepped in to help my oldest with her school work. Others helped my sons when they wanted to deal with there stress and emotions through prayer and encouraged this outlet. My younger daughter was just 3 when this as happening and only understood that Mommy is never home. Her teacher gave her extra grandmotherly love and attention.

    My NICU did not allow sibling visits but through out the time we where able to arrange for our kids to come and see the baby with special permission. We always talked about her with the kids by saying our baby or your baby. We kept them updated at age appropriate levels as we felt that not letting them know what was going on would increase their stress. We worked hard to listen to and validate their concern while reassuring them. We didn’t want to brush off their worries with canned lines about how everything would be ok but we didn’t want to create an atmosphere or fear and worry. Our NICU social worker and a close friend who is a child therapist really helped with this. It can be hard to know what to say to your children when you don’t know what to say to yourself.

    Before we brought our daughter home we explained to the children what to expect and how our lives would be different from now on. We explained the machines that would be coming home with her and the doctors and therapists that would be coming over to the house. We talked about how we couldn’t have friends at the house for now and about our new rules to keep germs at bay. We stated using purell and implementing theses things even before she came home so we could all get used to them without the pressure of a sick infant in the house. (We bought several colors and smells of alcogel so the kids where excited to use it. We even gave the older kids personal bottles for their backpacks because they thought it was cool.) We also found age appropriate ways they all could help and be involved with the baby.

    Thankfully they all adjusted very well. In a few months our baby will be three. The challenges and prolonged hospital visits have not stopped but to this day our children have never resented her or the way life is different for us.


  1. […] decrease the burden of caring for other siblings while the preemie is in the hospital, offer to babysit the children, hire someone to mow the grass, […]

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