Helping your family cope with having a premature baby


A lot of fathers feel that they are missing out on the care of their babies whilst on the neonatal unit, especially those who are only eligible for two weeks paternity leave. Looking after older siblings, keeping a job and remaining ‘strong’ for their partners are all things that fathers feel that they are ‘responsible’ for and it can be a very tough time.

It is important, that fathers are able to spend time with their baby on the unit. Health professionals are aware of the hard time that fathers face, and they are encouraged to help with the baby’s ‘cares’ and are able to play an active role in both the emotional and practical side of caring for their baby.

When a baby is on the neonatal unit, it is a tough time for the whole family, but siblings often find it confusing and may question why they are able to spend less time with their parents than normal. Some children can resent it because they don’t understand what’s going on, so it is important to try and keep them involved as much as possible. Take time to explain it to your child/ren.

Speak to the unit regarding them visiting. Some units have restrictions on children visiting, so it is important to ask beforehand. Some units do have ‘family rooms’ with toys and books for children to play with, but not all units have this and it can be a little boring for younger children.

Be aware though if your child is ill (cough, cold, virus, tummy bug etc.) they should not go on to the unit because of the risk of passing the disease on to vulnerable babies.

Ways to keep your child involved:

  • Take them to visit their brother or sister on the unit (but speak to the unit before hand in case there are any restrictions)
  • Ask them to draw a picture to go on the incubator, or write a story which can be read to them
  • Buy the baby a present such as a small washable toy which could go in the incubator / cot.
  • Buy the sibling a present from the baby
  • Take lots of photos of your baby, so they become part of the family. Talk about them with each other.
  • Make sure you tell your other children how much they are loved.
  • Try to keep to routines that your child has. It can help your child if they have familiar routines and will allow you to have some time on the unit if they go to nursery or school.

Some children may feel they are pushed out and may start showing unacceptable behaviour, or become more clingy and emotional than normal. This can especially be the case if they are needed to be looked after by several people and don’t get to see their parents much, so it is vital that you try to make time to be with them too. As important as it is to spend time on the unit with your baby, it is also important that life continues off the unit.

by Michelle, mum to Joshua, Alexa and Nathan

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