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Challenge: NICU Parenting

Tips for Helping Siblings Cope When Mom is on Hospital Bed Rest

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When you have big kids at home, hospital bed rest makes you grateful for five minutes of peace while simultaneously tearing your heart out. It makes an already painful time even trickier to navigate.

When I was 29 weeks pregnant with my son I started bleeding – it was my daughter's fifth birthday. It had been a beautiful day – full of chaos, fun and good friends. By midnight, I would be in an ambulance on my way from our regional hospital to Duke.

I was diagnosed with a partial placental abruption, likely caused by mild preeclampsia. I was monitored for four days and sent home, only to return to Duke two days later when my blood pressure skyrocketed. The plan was to keep me in the hospital and pregnant for as long as was safely possible. At 31 weeks and 5 days, my blood work worsened, and my son was delivered via urgent c-section.

All told, I spent three weeks in the hospital. Here are six things my family found helpful to navigate bed rest while also caring for an older sibling at home:

Routine is Key

Everyone said my daughter did great during the days, which we kept as close to her normal routine as possible. It was only at night when she melted down and my absence was felt most. Keeping her routine as normal as possible helped with the difficulty of my absence at home.

Regular Hospital Visits With Mom

Know your child’s limits. Mine was older, so she was able to hang out for a while and watch TV or color. Still, it gets boring in a hospital room, so my friends and family would take her down to the cafe or gift shop to break up the visit. Since she usually came at dinner time, I would make sure to order something I knew she would enjoy, because eating hospital food was strangely fun for her.

Note: A lot of hospitals put limits on children visitation during flu season.

Let Them Help

Ok, so I don’t recommend you give them a needle and tourniquet, but letting them help you be more comfortable can give them a little bit of control. Loop your child into your hospital routine, have them bring you a snack or fluff your pillow. This will make them feel useful. And if your bed needs adjusting, they’ll be all over it.

Provide Physical Reminders

Give them touchstones to keep you connected while you are apart. A small photo album of you together, or videos on their tablet of you reading them stories. My daughter's favorite was a stuffed animal with my voice in it. My mom brought me the voice box, let me record a message, and then took it back to the store to have it added to a stuffed cat. It has become a very treasured item in her life.


This is hard for them. They might act out in new ways. Make sure they know it is ok to feel whatever they are feeling, and take the time to listen. Every night before my husband took her home, I would ask my daughter if she had anything she wanted to talk about. It gave her a chance to express a lot of worries that she had been holding inside. It has become a tradition that we still use today.

Equip Yourself With Resources

The Hand to Hold organization has a recommended book list for siblings if your baby has to stay in the NICU. Books about anxiety and difficult feelings can also be useful. Talk to your child’s school counselor or the hospital social worker if you need more ideas.

It’s a tough time, but it will be a distant memory for them soon enough!

And you may get some cherished memories of your own.


This piece was originally published at - reprinted with permission.

Rhiannon Giles is an overwhelmed mother who only occasionally considers giving her children to the circus. She has a sarcasm problem and writes regularly at To keep up with new posts and see some of her favorites, join her on Facebook and Twitter.

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