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For short hospital visits or doctor's appointments, a tablet game or book can be sufficient to hold my sons interest while things are getting done.

However, most hospital rooms and doctor's offices have of a number of fascinating objects, screens, cables, and buttons that attract my son's interest more than any toy or screen we can bring with us.

This was particularly difficult when we had to take my son for his brother's ultrasound. I had to hold him for most of the time (while he squirmed), and then ended up having to leave to a waiting room once we found out his sibling was going to be a brother.

Another instance was when my wife was very ill and dehydrated. I wanted to be in the room for the evaluation, until we found out what the plan was. Instead, we ended up spending time in a waiting room until I felt comfortable leaving my wife there (she ended up having to stay the night).

Neither of these are ideal solutions for me. I'd rather keep him occupied, without missing the action myself. Unfortunately, we don't have any friends in this area that could show up on short notice to watch him (we moved last fall for my schooling), and I also don't/won't employ babysitters. My wife does now have a friend that we're comfortable leaving our son with (or watching her children), but that's just been for planned-in-advance stuff.

For full disclosure, the reason that I want to know right now is because my next son is due to arrive in about 6 weeks. The earliest most of friends/family could arrive would be 3-4 hours after we let them know the action has started. The last delivery was planned to be induced, so everyone knew well ahead of time when to be there. This time, it's likely going to be on nature's schedule.

I know that usually, there's plenty of time between when the early parts of labor start and the need to go to the hospital, but I would like to be prepared just in case.

How can I keep my son occupied in a medical room, and prevent him from playing with or getting into medical equipment and supplies?

While I'm primarily interested in solution because of the foreseeable hospital visit for the birth, I'm not solely interested in a solution for that time. After that there will be appointments for my wife and new one that I'd like to be present for, and likely when we won't have "help" available to watch our oldest.

  • He's 2 or thereabouts? – Joe Mar 26 '15 at 21:10
  • Yup! Just barely 2. – user11394 Mar 26 '15 at 21:11
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    I kept this out of my answer as much as possible, so I'll say it here: you'd be much better off finding some way for your son to be elsewhere during labor and delivery. Even if it goes smoothly in every aspect, he's going to be a major stressor for Mom and you, and if (god forbid) anything bad happens you won't want to have him around while you're making important decisions, or just stressed about the outcome. I understand not being comfortable with babysitters, but I would either find a way to be okay with it for one day, or find another solution. – Joe Mar 26 '15 at 21:30
  • That includes the possibility of having someone watch him in the hospital for you - I've seen that before. That might allow you to split your attention some without being entirely responsible. – Joe Mar 26 '15 at 21:32
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    That's good then. During my second child's birth, while my first (at 19 months) was with his grandmother, right at the end when my wife was pushing something happened to the monitor (probably a dislodged cable), but it caused the room to fill with doctors in about ten seconds and me to nearly need one of them. I was very happy not to have my son at that time... – Joe Mar 26 '15 at 21:37
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I think you're going to have a hard time keeping a two year old occupied in the hospital room for very long if you're not 100% paying attention to him. It's not generally recommended to bring such a young child to the labor/delivery room, for that reason.

The problem with a 2 year old is the attention span is just too short. He will remember to be good for a while, and allow you to distract him, but two or three hours is very hard to see working consistently. That means your goal is going to be keeping him focused on different things. You're also going to have to deal with him wanting to be with Mommy quite often, when she probably doesn't want to be holding him. Some of these issues will almost certainly require leaving the room for a period of time, and no matter what you're going to have to pay a lot of attention to him.


Nonetheless, there are things you can do if you don't have any other choice.

My three year old had to go to the ER due to some breathing trouble at night back in the fall, and he and I did manage to do alright for a couple of hours (in his own hospital room). What we did was look at the things in the room, and talk about them. We talked about the information on the white board (patient info). We talked about the TV stand. About the bed lift. We looked for interesting things on the walls - they had some murals of fish and such (this was a children's hospital) and that led to long conversations.

We also brought a few cars/trains, and he played with those for a while. They're nice because they allow him to interact with the environment - by driving his car on them.

We also talked extensively about what was going on, and what the rest of the stay would be like. This helped pass time AND got him ready for what was going to come. For your two year old this seems like a really important part: he's going to be better off if he understands that he will have to leave Mommy alone for a while.


As far as advice for a two year old specifically, I would try to talk about any machine he found some interest in. If he looks at the monitors, show him what the lights mean and talk about how they're helping keep baby brother safe. If he is interested in the bed lift, if you can, show him what it does, but definitely talk about why it's there. Two is a bit early to really understand this, but he'll get part of it, and maybe it'll help him understand why it's important to leave it alone.

I would definitely bring a tablet with his favorite shows/games on it (if he has any - otherwise, with some interesting ones). Several books, for sure. He's going to want attention a lot - Mommy won't be able to provide it, and he'll be sad about that, so things that allow you to interact with him will be crucial.

Finally, I would do a trial run when your wife hits 37 weeks, if the hospital will let you (mine would have, not sure how common that is). Ask if you can go into a room for a little while, maybe 20-30 minutes. Let him see all the stuff there now, when it's not stressful. That way you can get a better handle on the situation now, and see what might be a potential hazard - as well as getting him more comfortable with it. Tell him where Mommy will be, what's going to happen in the room, etc., so he's familiar with it and not as surprised when it actually happens.

  • "I think you're going to have a hard time keeping a two year old occupied in the hospital room for very long if you're not 100% paying attention to him." Don't I know it! – user11394 Mar 26 '15 at 21:29
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    I like this answer very much. I would just add, and sorry for me being straightforward: Get ready -- all three of you: you, your wife and your 2-year-old -- that it can happen you'll have to leave the room. Especially for your wife who'll be probably quite exhausted by then, talking about this possibility before will make it easier for her if you really happen to leave the room while she gives birth. – yo' Mar 26 '15 at 23:14
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A couple of suggestions, both general and specific to your situation.

If you do not want to hire a baby sitter, have your thought about a 'mothers helper?' A pre-teen or teenage neighbor, who looks after the kid while you are in the the house. Less background checking, cheaper. Find one now, and build a relationship with them and their parents. For scheduled doctors visits, you might be able to bring them along and have them in the waiting room with your kid. In fact, while you may not be comfortable with leaving your kid with someone, anyone you can bring along might be an option - someone who can entertain your son in a waiting room.

This may or may not work for the delivery, depending on the timing.

Is your wife OK doing this alone? My husband drove our oldest to our friend for baby sitting when we had our youngest, and almost didn't make it back in time (delivery was fast). I was not upset. I was actually surprised at how calm I was - this being the second time I was fine with him not being there for handholding.

I would personally not bring a 2 year old to the delivery room - he might be in the way, and it will probably be upsetting for him to see mom in distress.

I honestly think the best way would be for your to start building relationship with someone so that you can trust them to look after your kids.

  • Thank you for the input, but a "mother's helper" is also not something I'd be interested in. For a younger sitter, I would actually be inclined to do more background checking to ensure they are mature enough to meet my expectations. We agree that it's best to have a close friend that we can trust. My wife is building a relationship with a friend who also has two young ones, and I do try to encourage her to socialize. As you may have figured out from my reluctance to involve a 3rd party, we're not a terribly social couple, and prefer to be independent, which slows the process down. – user11394 Mar 31 '15 at 3:48
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    The whole idea of a 'mother's helper' is that you don't really leave them alone with the kid. They are just there to 'entertain' and if something happens, they get you. Usually they are used so you can cook dinner, or do laundry or similar around the house - I can just see a situation where bringing someone along to a waiting room might be possible. It is really hard to be self sufficient with small kids - the saying is 'it takes a village' is true here. Your best bet if your don't want 3rd parties is for you to wait outside the delivery room with your son, IMHO. – Ida Mar 31 '15 at 20:02
  • I see what you mean by the mother's helper now. I missed part of your answer "while you are in the house". Sorry about that! That half of a sentence really changes the meaning of this answer! (I feel a bit sheepish!) That's a very good idea, and probably what our family will end up doing when they arrive. Anyway, he won't be in the delivery room during the actual delivery, but we don't have any concerns about him being there prior to that, as long as it doesn't stress out Mama and she's not having any medical problems. He also won't be in there for examinations or procedures. – user11394 Mar 31 '15 at 20:17

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