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Grandparents and the Neonatal Unit

Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children.” ~ Alex Haley

Your precious grandchild has arrived and requires special care in a neonatal unit. Your feelings may be mixed with worry for the health of your grandchild as well as concern for your daughter or son and how they may cope with the babies stay in the hospital.

As a parent, it is natural for you to want to take your child’s fears, pain and anxiety away, but it is your ongoing love and support that will make the most difference.

Here are some practical tips for grandparents to help their children through their babies stay in the hospital.

  • Acknowledge the baby’s birth examples may include: sending flowers to the mother, a photo album, baby book, diary or calendar to record important events.
  • Find out exactly whom to notify about the baby’s birth and what the baby’s parent(s) want others to know.
  • Only do what your child feels happy with. Sometimes what you think may be helpful may not be at this time.
  • Take a back seat role, if that is what the babies parents want. This may be just while they adjust to their own emotions.
  • Offer to drive the mother to and from the hospital, to sit with her, to supply lunch
  • Offer to mind their other children, spend extra time interacting with them, and help them to feel as important as the baby.
  • Offer to visit or read a book to your grandchild when the parents cannot be there.
  • Find something about the baby to complement at each visit, be it hair colour, eyes, willingness to fight, how they seem to know when their parent comes near and speaks etc.
  • Do not make critical comments about the ways your grandchild is being cared for in the hospital. The staff know how to care for baby. Babies in a neonatal unit need to be handled and parented in specific, and sometimes different ways than full-term babies
  • Be mindful of the fragile state, listen to their fears and worries this can be sometimes all they need.
  • Be patient and supportive, every day for a baby in the neonatal unit may be different.
  • Try to alleviate guilt. It is natural for a mother of a sick baby to feel guilty or responsible for the condition and problems of the baby. She needs to hear this over and over again
  • Build your child up, tell them what a good job they are doing, how you admire their strength and their dedication and their parenting skills. Never undermine their efforts, even if you think they need “helpful” suggestions.
  • Understand that no matter how altered your child may seem, they will come through this. This process will be much easier with your support.
  • Do not expect praise, thanks or even that your child will necessarily notice all your efforts. Hopefully, this will come to you over time, your child is likely to be in shock.
  • Recognise that you too may need support and seek help if needed. Your child will not have the emotional space to look after you. This is the time for you to be strong for your child.
  • For Grandparents who live far away, interstate or overseas, make regular contact through email, skype, and phone calls and stay positive and strong for everyone involved
  • Be mindful to distance yourself from the parents if you are unwell with a cough or cold and remember  to update your whooping cough vaccine before visiting the baby

To download the tip sheet click here

The Tipsheet is also available:

In our prem pack. To order a pack email [email protected]

or at designated hospitals across Australia

Post a picture of yourself and your little treasure using the hashtag #proudpremmiegrandparent 


Read the Open letter penned by grandparent Carol Newham, who has a Masters of Clinical Neuropsychology (LaTrobe University) and has extensive experience working with infants, pre-schoolers and children

She runs a website called Raising Premmies, helping parents achieve peak development in their prematurely-born children.




Grandma Marilyn Chenhall’s story 

16 years ago when I became a first-time Grandmother to a very tiny premature baby, there was little information available. 

I had no previous knowledge of what to expect on the long journey ahead. There was very little support, advice, and information available for Grandparents.

I visited often but must admit all the various electronic equipment scared me and was at times difficult to fully understand what was happening.

The staff were great overall but were extremely busy and I often felt in the way.

Knowing that a tip sheet for Grandparents is to be launched and made available by Life’s Little Treasures, is certainly a great step forward.

I am sure it will prove invaluable and give Grandparents a better understanding of how to provide support to their child and precious premie grandchild at such a stressful time.

                                                 Grandma of an ex 633g, 27  weeker granddaughter, now 16 years

Nanny Gillian Thomas’s story

As a long distance grandparent, it is important to be as supportive as you can. If able, arrange a visit as soon as possible. The need to be with your child, at this time, is a very strong emotion and to be with them at this very traumatic time in their lives. It is also necessary to let the parents of the new baby have their time together, too, without grandparents, getting in the way. Do little things to help – just cooking family meals, cleaning and tidying up and not getting too emotional yourself in front of the new parents. This isn’t easy as a grandparent as you want to take all the pain and suffering away from your child as well as your new grandchild.

You can see and feel the vulnerability so much more clearly.
Don’t make yourself a ‘burden’ to your child – a mistake that can easily be made, especially if you, as a grandparent, feel below par. It will not help the situation and may even cause problems.

Go to your child with a positive outlook – doesn’t matter how many times you have to repeat it and always let them talk out their feelings and emotions, no matter how drained they are feeling.  The wonderful day will arrive when you are told that baby can go home, is a treasured time, and the new parents can go forward and look forward to the future.

                                              Grandma of an ex-prem grandson, born 31+1 at 1.7kg, now 2 years

If you or your child would like to speak to one of our peer support volunteers please call 1300 697 736

More information for prem families can be found at

There is also a wealth of information available on the Raising Children website

If you are a Grandparent and would like to add your story please email it to us (max one A4 page, with up to 2 pictures) at [email protected]

Copyright 2017 The Life’s Little Treasures Foundation



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