Looking back on your NICU stay, did you have supportive friends and family helping on the sidelines? Were you able to articulate what your needs were at the moment? Moving forward, here is a list that you can share with anyone asking, “How can I support a loved one with a baby in the NICU?”
5 Ways to Support a Loved One with a Baby in the NICU
FOOD, FOOD and EVEN MORE FOOD (“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” – Hippocrates) – A preemie mom will likely be spending long, long days in the NICU, and like anyone recovering from birth, she will need to keep her energy levels up with nutritious foods. Hospital cafeterias can get old (and expensive) pretty fast. Consider organizing a meal train (https://www.mealtrain.com/) and share this with the people in her community. Make prepared meals that can be frozen and easily heated up at the hospital. If mom is breastfeeding or pumping, consider purchasing or baking a batch of lactation yummies. Here are a few yummy recipes that are simple to make and require minimal time and ingredients: (https://cafemom.com/parenting/174102-8_yummy_lactation_recipes_for) Lastly, if mom has other kids at home, feed them too. Cooking is the last thing that she or her partner will want to do after spending a long day at the hospital.
HOMEBASE SUPPORT (Anything is possible when you have the right people there to support you. – Misty Copeland) – In many cases, due to the early birth, the home nursery is still a work in progress. Offer to set up the crib, paint or organize baby clothes so preemie mom and dad do not have to worry about those time-consuming chores. Clean the house and if there are older siblings, offer to babysit. Taking these extras off mom and dad’s hands will allow them to spend time with their preemie in the NICU. There are many online resources to help schedule time to support household chores. Check out (https://lotsahelpinghands.com/).
CELEBRATE BABY(“Remember to celebrate the little things) – No matter the circumstances, a new life has come into the world and oftentimes people forget that preemie parents want to celebrate their baby. There are many specialized NICU items you can gift a preemie parent. Here are just a couple of PreemieWorld favorites (for a more detailed list of preemie products that PreemieWorld has reviewed, please see our PreemieWorld Directory (https://preemieworld.com/preemie-directory/):
- Zaky Products – Extending the power of touch and scent. (https://thezaky.com/)
- Beyondbun Products – Creates cuddly friends and age appropriate sensory toys that nurture your baby’s developing brain from day one and all products are made from sustainable materials. (https://beyondbun.co/)
- Perfectly Preemie – NICU-Friendly clothing (https://www.perfectlypreemie.com/)
- The NICU Warrior Journal – A journal that will serve as a guide for parents of premature infants as you navigate your NICU stay. You will be able to use this resource to reflect on your little one’s journey for many years to come. (https://www.strongerthanuknow.com/product-page/the-nicu-warrior-journal)
- Sammie the Salmon – Through the life of a tiny salmon who soon grows big, the author, Deb Kline is able to capture and share her journey of the premature birth of her son, Sam, born at 26 weeks. The story gently guides the reader through the early NICU fears and as the story progresses, it provides comfort and hope to preemie families everywhere. Available on (www.amazon.com)
And of course, let’s not forget about mom and dad! The Preemie Parent’s Survival Guide to the NICU is the holy grail of preemie parent support books, written by co-authors and preemie parents, Nicole Conn – Novelist and Award-winning Screenplay Writer and Deb Discenza – Founder of PreemieWorld, Preemie Crystal Ball and Public Speaker, Author and Preemie Parent Advocate. Available on Amazon.com and www.PreemieWorld.com.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT DAD! (Preemie Dad [noun] Superhero father of a mini Superhero) – Fathers in the NICU are usually described as the support beams that hold up the world around the entire family. When you are seen as “the strong one” sometimes dads are overlooked as not needing help. The truth is, dads of preemies may feel just as terrified, overwhelmed, and confused as their partners. Sometimes just an invitation to have dinner or watch a ballgame with a friend can make all the difference. Remind dad that he is important, seen and supported. If dad reaches out, listen. There is also a terrific preemie parent mentor group designed specifically for dads. Check out (https://grahamsfoundation.org/preemie-parent-mentors/preemie-parent-mentor-profiles/preemie-dads/)
MOMENTUM IS KEY! (Momentum is the next day’s Starting Pitcher – Earl Weaver) I can’t stress this enough! Yes, life moves ever forward, but preemie parents don’t stop needing support after the first couple of weeks. Many families spend days, weeks and even months in the NICU with a sick premature baby. The truth is, it actually gets more difficult for parents because many parents have to return to work and siblings at home need just as much attention and the exhaustion of trying to return to a schedule while worrying about a baby left in the NICU is enough to break a person. Aside from exhaustion, one of the biggest challenges for many parents is the feelings of isolation. I can’t stress enough how lonely the NICU can be and how easily a parent can feel completely alone in a stress-filled environment. If you take anything away from this article, remember this: CHECK IN! This can be a simple phone call for updates, a quick coffee date or simply an “I’m thinking of you” text.