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Child Life Specialists: A Lifeline for NICU Families

March is almost over, but it is never too late to celebrate Child Life Month, four weeks dedicated to acknowledging and appreciating the important work of Child Life Specialists.

In both healthcare and community settings, Certified Child Life Specialists help infants, children, youth, and families cope with the stress and uncertainty of acute and chronic illness, injury, trauma, disability, loss and bereavement. They bring comfort and support to families during emotional and traumatic times.

Child Life Specialists work in many different settings including schools, medical offices, camps, and hospitals. One particularly difficult place Child Life Specialists are needed is in a hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). One out of every ten American babies in the U.S. is born prematurely; that’s about 380,000 babies each year who start their lives in the NICU.

Having a newborn in the hospital takes an emotional and physical toll on everyone in the family. Especially for families with children who might not be old enough to completely understand that their baby brother or sister is

too small, fragile, or sick to come home. Older siblings can begin to feel scared, excluded, or angry, which often means they are not receiving the support they need.

Kelly Scher, a Child Life Specialist from Golisano Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida explains, “Many parents struggle with balancing their time between children at home and their hospitalized premature baby.” Explaining to a young child what is happening to their baby brother or sister can be intimidating, especially if the preemie is experiencing serious health complications.

There are many ways the hospital and Child Life Specialists can provide support for the sibling. Above all, siblings of preemie babies need to understand that they are also cared for, loved, and an important part of the family.

NICU Sibling Support resources can be an asset during this time. Educational sibling support coloring or activity books offer information an adult can share while giving the child an activity. Come Home Soon, Baby Brother! and Come Home Soon, Baby Sister! (also available in Spanish) use illustrations and text to explain why the new baby can’t come home yet, how the NICU takes care of them, and what siblings can do to help. According to Elizabeth B. Mittiga, RN, BSN, from Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, these sibling support coloring books explain the NICU “in terms that children can understand, allowing them the enjoyment of coloring the pictures as well.”

While this Child Life Month may be coming to a close, don’t forget to acknowledge the Child Life Specialists in your community and the amazing work they do for the families they serve.

Resources for NICU Families

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