If your baby is in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) and you have other children, you may wonder about how to get them ready to meet their new brother or sister. The truth is that the NICU can be overwhelming and maybe even a little scary for kids, especially the first time they go. But there are things you and your partner can do to prepare your children for a NICU visit:
- Talk to your children about rules to follow in the NICU. For example, tell them that they’ll need to wash their hands in the NICU and whether or not they can hold the baby.
- Keep visits short. Some children may get bored while visiting, so try to keep visits to less than 30 minutes. Having another adult there can be helpful in case you want to stay with your baby after your other children leave.
- Describe what they may see. Tell your children what the baby looks like, including how big or small she is. Show your children pictures or videos of the baby, her bed and medical equipment.
- Explain what the NICU equipment does. The machines in the NICU may seem less scary if children know what some of them do.
Before bringing children to the NICU, ask staff about guidelines and policies. Some NICUs may not allow young children inside to help protect the babies from getting an infection. Other NICUs may ask to test children for illnesses before they’re allowed to visit. If your children are not allowed to visit, ask them to make drawings or photo albums to help them feel like they’re helping and loving their little brother or sister.
Visit marchofdimes.org to learn about resources that can help you and your family while your baby’s in the NICU. You can also visit shareyourstory.org, the March of Dimes online community for families to share experiences with prematurity, birth defects or loss.