Contact with family and visitors
The birth of a preterm child can also be disturbing for older brothers or sisters. Siblings should be made familiar with the new family-situation as early as possible to be prepared for what life may be like when their new brother or sister comes home. If possible, siblings can have a first contact with the youngest family member in the NICU. In this case, make sure the siblings are prepared to see the baby in an incubator, maybe by showing them photos in advance. Some units offer support if siblings would like to undertake some of the daily care procedures e.g. kangarooing, nappy changing, or holding the baby, always depending on the age of the older child. The health situation should be explained to children in an appropriate language. At home, parents can plan to spend some time alone with each of their other children. Sometimes older children may be jealous or angry because the new baby gets most of the attention in the first weeks and months and their everyday life has changed a lot.
In some cases, they show an irritating change in behaviour like thumb sucking, sleep problems or bed wetting in order to reclaim that attention from their parents. Others might be introvert and worried about their parents as they appear to be upset or sad. Children should nevertheless be encouraged to talk about their feelings and concerns and parents should react both sympathetically and consistently. Sometimes, grandparents or other family members can spend time with the sibling and talk about or explain the new situation to them. For this, parents and grandparents might come back to books especially written in child-appropriate language which may help older children to better understand the situation. You can consult a local parent organisation or online blogs to find numerous book recommendations on this topic.
If a baby is finally at home family and friends usually would like to visit and welcome the new family member. However, parents and the baby may need some time to adjust with the new situation. Parents should tell this to family and friends and let them know when they are ready for visits. They can also set time limits for visits or a limited number of visitors per day.
The parents’ needs should be prioritised in this matter. Caring family and friends will respect these needs for privacy and time for adjustment. Even if parents are not used to ask for it, they might need some help in the beginning. Especially household activities like cleaning, shopping, or driving to the pharmacy for example, can be a great support for new mothers and fathers.