That having a baby in hospital undergoing intensive care is a stressful experience is beyond dispute Every parent, no matter how well-developed their own personal resources, depends to some extent on the support of others within their social system to cope with this stress Grandparents occupy a special place in support networks and their role was studied in families with a very low birthweight baby Both professional and lay perspectives were investigated and 93 families participated Questionnaires were sent to family members 1 month after the baby's birth and 1 month after discharge home There was a general consensus that the principal role of grandparents was to provide emotional support Many practical forms of help were seen to be expressions of their care and concern There were, however, discrepancies between professional and parental expectations where both protection from problems and obtaining information on behalf of the parents were concerned More was expected of grandmothers than of grandfathers and maternal grandmothers in particular were key figures There were a number of areas of potential conflict of needs and rights and a recommendation has been made to give parents a greater voice on who they choose to support them