Charity funding has allowed the neonatal unit to provide older siblings with packs that help them adapt to having a younger sibling in hospital.

Every year, around 1,500 premature or poorly babies spend several months on the Neonatal Units across both Leeds General Infirmary and St James Hospital. For parents who have other children, it can be hard for siblings to adjust to having a new baby brother or sister, especially when they are unable to go home. Young children may also not understand why their parents aren’t around as much as before and feel anxious and stressed about visiting the unit.

Your donations have enabled Leeds Hospitals Charity to provide sibling packs for the neonatal units so that siblings have the opportunity to create memories and keepsakes that will help them better understand and cope with the situation.

Read more: Neonatal Podcast supported by charity launches on World Prematurity Day

The neonatal team practice a concept called “Family-Integrated Care” where staff engage families in the care of their newborns. Having the packs mean that the team is able to formally extend Family-Integrated Care beyond not only the parents but to the whole family.

The packs have been designed by the neonatal team and are bespoke; they are tailored to the older child’s age and, where appropriate, their gender too. They contain memory-making and mindfulness activities including a specific sibling memory book, colouring, and crafting. There are also keepsakes for the whole family, including family handprint artwork and information leaflets which explain how an older child might respond to this difficult situation and provide parents with suggestions on how to talk with them about it.

Read more: Leeds Children's Hospital

The team decided to launch the initiative  in response to feedback from parents with children who expressed  worries about the well-being of their children. Parents were concerned about how their other children would cope with them not being at home as often, because of spending time in hospital by their baby’s side.

Ellen Culkin-Storey was on  the neonatal unit with her newborn son and said, “My older son John received a sibling pack, and he loved it. It was tailored to his age group and it helped him feel included and that he wasn't being ignored whilst his brother was in the hospital.”

Read more: The Duchess of Edinburgh visits Leeds Children's Hospital

Since the packs launched, the neonatal team have noticed how this is helping alleviate some of the parents’ fears and worries by providing  tangible resources to help the whole family. Parents say that the packs are helping older children understand the situation better and feel less anxious about coming to visit their baby sibling in hospital.

Sarah Mckennel, Family Care Nurse, said “I find it very satisfying being able to offer the packs for big brothers and sisters. Some people might say it’s going above and beyond, but caring for the whole family should be part of everyday care. It is what makes neonates a special place to be. It's great to come away knowing that you’ve made a difference not just for the parents but for the whole family.”