6 Ways You Can Support a NICU Family

6 Ways You Can Support a NICU Family

March 27, 2020

6 Ways You Can Support a NICU Family

6 Ways You Can Support a NICU Family
Photo by @mamanesser
6 Ways You Can Support a NICU Family

Odds are you’ve known a family with a NICU baby and wanted to do everything you could to help them through. But it can be tough to figure out what’s actually helpful versus what’s not, and to figure out what you can do to make their lives a little bit easier during what’s often a pretty stressful time.

We spoke to real NICU families to find out the best, most helpful ways you can support a family with a baby in the NICU.

1. Gifts are great—but make sure they’re practical.

Everyone loves presents, right? A NICU family isn’t in the same circumstances as a family with a newborn who’s able to come home from the hospital within a few days, though, so you need to keep a few things in mind when choosing a gift.

Here are some practical gift ideas that families who had NICU babies suggest. Keep in mind that most NICUS have very strict rules on what is and isn’t allowed (no flowers or balloons, for example), so sending anything directly to the hospital probably isn’t the best idea.

  • A magazine subscription or a basket of books. NICU days are long, and these can help pass the time.
  • Snacks. When in doubt, choose snacks—you can’t go wrong.
  • A pumping package. Lots of NICU parents decide to pump for their baby. If that’s the case for your friend or loved one, consider putting together a stash of most-used pumping supplies like quick clean wipes or extra breast milk storage bags so it’s one less thing they’ll have to worry about figuring out on their own.
  • A ride-share gift card. If a NICU family lives in a city, odds are they don’t have a car. Treat them to an Uber or Lyft gift card so their transportation costs don’t start to add up and they won’t have to rely on public transit.

2. Food. All the food.

People love to support others by giving food during a tough time. And food is a great way to support a family with a NICU baby—you just need to know the best way to do it.

  • A food delivery service gift card. Hospital food gets old fast. Give a gift card for companies like Uber Eats, Grubhub, DoorDash or Seamless so the family can order takeout right to the hospital. A gift card for a restaurant that’s nearby to the hospital is a good idea, too, and is perfect for those times when they need a break from the NICU.
  • A home cooked meal. Never underestimate the power of a home cooked meal. Just be sure to ask about any allergies or dietary restrictions first, and ask the family whether they’d like the meal dropped off at their home or at the hospital. Making something that’s easy to pop in the freezer is always a good way to go, as is including some food storage containers for leftovers.
  • Make a list. This is a quick and easy one. Spend some time figuring out the best local take-out spots within delivery distance of the hospital and pass them along. You’ll save your friends or family who are already dealing with the stresses of the NICU the trouble of having to figure out for themselves.

3. Your time.

This is a big one according to the NICU families we spoke to. Sometimes the best thing you can give a NICU family isn’t tangible; instead, it’s your time spent doing things for them that they’ve fallen behind on because they’re spending the bulk of their days at the hospital.

  • Do the laundry. If there’s one thing we all know that never ends, no matter what, it’s laundry. Arrange a time to swing by to pick up the family’s laundry, then return it later that day clean, folded and ready to go.
  • Set up the nursery. Most families are caught off-guard by their little one’s early arrival and don’t have a nursery ready to go. (Even families who do know their chances of having a NICU baby are pretty high may be too preoccupied to turn their attention to nursery setup.) When discharge time is approaching, volunteer to help your friends or family get baby’s room ready by spending some time putting together the crib, washing and putting away clothing, blankets and crib bedding, organizing toys and books and assembling any baby gear that needs it.
  • Run errands. Is there anything you know of that the family hasn’t had time to buy? Errands they want to run but can’t? A few to-dos that would be super helpful? Ask how you can help and volunteer a few hours of your time to help them check things off of their list.
  • Research benefits. This one’s a little trickier to figure out, but it’s something that several NICU families we spoke with said was a huge game-changer in terms of help. There are many benefits that you’re entitled to as a NICU family, but there’s a steep learning curve when it comes to figuring them out. Help your NICU family by doing this tedious work for them. Does the hospital offer free parking passes? Call on their behalf and find out. Do they need a place to stay? Research Ronald McDonald houses in the area and get some basic information about how they can book a room at one if they need it. What about things like Medicaid or social security benefits? Spend an hour or two hitting Google to try to get a handle on what they may be entitled to and share your takeaways. You’ll save them lots of time and energy that they can instead spend with their new baby.

4. Support the whole family.

Having a baby in the NICU is stressful enough, but what about if your friends or family also have other children at home? NICU families with siblings need their own special type of support. Here are a few ways you can help:

  • Volunteer to babysit.
  • Host a sibling sleepover or a special day-long adventure.
  • Offer to drive siblings to school, sports, play dates or other activities.

5. Don’t forget non-birth parents, too.

There’s no doubt that if you’re a parent who’s just given birth to a preemie or to a full-term baby who requires NICU time that you’re going to need some support. But the same holds true if there’s a partner in the picture, too. Non-birth parents are often carrying worry for two people: their new baby and their partner. Offering support to them is just as important as it is to the person who’s just given birth.

Check in with the family’s non-birth parent whenever you can. Offer to set aside a time to talk or to share a coffee or a meal together. Drop off a small gift, a book or anything you think may lift their spirits. And don’t be afraid to be just a little pushy (within reason, of course!). They’ll probably be a bit hesitant to leave the side of their baby or partner, so try your best to make sure they set aside at least a little time for themselves and support them in doing so however you can.

6. Listen. (Really listen.)

This last one may sound simple, but it’s probably one of the most important things you can do to support a NICU family: listen. Really, truly listen.

  • Check in frequently, but don’t expect a response.
  • Give your family or friend the space to feel the true range of emotions they’re likely feeling, whether it’s frustration, worry, anger, fear or anything else. Don’t tell them how they should or shouldn’t feel, and don’t force positivity unless you’re taking their lead.
  • Don’t compare your situation to theirs or try to relate your own birth experience.
  • Try not to offer advice unless you’re asked.

And don’t forget to continue to check in with a NICU family after their baby is discharged. Adjusting to life at home with a NICU baby can be stressful and often is filled with more worry and anxiety than would be the case with a baby who wasn’t in the NICU. Keep checking in and offering support for however long you think it’s needed.

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