Juggling Your NICU Baby and Other Children
Being the parents of a baby in the NICU is hard work! Once you have dealt with the initial shock of your preterm delivery or the diagnosis that led to your baby being admitted to the NICU, the reality sets in that you will be going home and your life outside the NICU must carry on while your baby stays in the hospital. Managing work, maintaining your relationships, taking care of your home, commuting to and from the NICU, and dealing with the emotional rollercoaster of your baby’s NICU admission may be very overwhelming. Having other children at home to care for at home can really magnify the stress. Here are some ways to help lessen your burden and make this time a little more manageable:
- Ask family and friends if they are local. More often, then not, your family and friends WANT to help you but often don’t know what to do. So when someone asks you “let me know if I can do anything for you” - let them know directly! Having someone else pick up/drop off your other children from school or after school activities, drop off prepared dinners/or have your children over for dinner at their home, take your children to the park or other activity on the weekend, or help with their homework can help free up your time to bond with your baby in the NICU. If you don’t have anyone locally you can rely on, hiring a babysitter for after school or weekend care can also take some weight off your shoulders.
- Get your other children involved. Ask your NICU nurse if there are age restrictions for visitors. If you can, bring your other children with you to visit your baby in the NICU. If they are unable to visit, or you are not comfortable with them visiting, then focus on ways for your children to interact with their new sibling from afar. Facetime your other children from your baby’s bedside in the NICU. You can also give your other children a gift “from the baby” to get them excited about the new arrival. This can be something very simple, like a drawing, a photo, or small toy or book. Encourage your children to reciprocate with their own gifts to the baby. Ask your other children for their help in choosing clothing for the baby or decorating the nursery. Any way you can foster their sibling bond and make them feel special will help limit jealousy and create a warm, loving connection.
- Embrace technology. Just as you can Facetime your other children from the NICU, you can also Facetime your baby from home. Ask your NICU nurse or social worker if they can set up an iPad near your baby so you can see them, talk to them, read them a book, or sing them a song. While spending time physically with your baby when you can is important, taking time to connect with your other children at home is equally as important.
- Create a routine. Children love routines as it helps them feel more organized and less anxious. The introduction of a new baby is bound to throw a wrench into the routine your other children were used to, but your absence while visiting the baby in the NICU can intensify your other children’s reactions. Try your best to create a new routine that involves set times where you spend special one-on-one time with your children at home, as well as time with your baby in the NICU. Tell your other children ahead of time when you expect to visit in the NICU, for how long, and when you will be home. This separation at first is likely to cause some meltdowns, but sticking to a predictable routine over time will help your children grow accustomed to this change sooner.
- Talk to your NICU care team. Talk to your NICU child life specialist for other ideas to involve your other children at home, how to talk to them in age-appropriate ways about their sibling’s hospitalization, and how to facilitate visits to the NICU if allowable. If you are having difficulty dealing emotionally with the impact of juggling your baby in the NICU and having other children at home, then reach out to your NICU social worker or psychologist. Of course, we also encourage you to check our Essential Course to learn more ways to cope with the stress of having a NICU baby!
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