Your friend or family member has a baby in the NICU. How can you help them? What can you say to them? Here are some ideas from fellow NICU parents that will help your friend or family member in the NICU feel loved and supported.
We’re not talking about gifts in the traditional sense, although those may be appreciated too. Gifts for NICU parents usually mean things they can make use of while they’re in the NICU, things that will lift the burdens of trying to find food, gas or parking.
One of the hidden costs of the NICU is all the money spent on gas, food and parking. Gift cards to restaurants near the hospital, for gas or even a pre-paid Visa or MasterCard gift card are immensely helpful to ease that burden.
Ask if they have been given a parking pass. Some hospitals provide this for NICU families, and some do not. If not, consider purchasing one for them, as paying for parking every day gets expensive.
Put together a care package of things that will be useful in the NICU: lotion for dry hands, snacks to take to and from the NICU, magazines or books to read by the bedside. One mom loved receiving a nice robe to wear when she did kangaroo care with her baby.
Acts of service
In the words of one NICU mom, “Don’t ask; just do.” NICU parents won’t always know exactly what they need, or they may feel hesitant to ask.
The same tasks need to be done around the house, even when you’re spending your days in the NICU (or just home from the NICU). Lawns need to be mowed, houses tidied, laundry done, pets cared for. Showing up and doing these tasks for a family – or making arrangements for them to be done – takes a few things off of their already heavy plate.
Offering to babysit will allow both parents to visit the NICU at the same time – a rare occurrence for those with those with older children. Give them the gift of time together.
The emotional support you give your friend or family member can be just as meaningful, if not more, than any monetary gift or act of service.
Some NICU parents may not like the idea of being congratulated (and plenty do love it!), but an acknowledgement of the birth of a child is a wonderful thing.
Offer a quick text of support, with no obligation to respond. They read them, and they appreciate them.
Visit if you can
You may not be able to go into the NICU to see the baby, but consider visiting with your friend, giving her a break from the NICU and some face time with another adult. Sit with her in the waiting room, take her to the cafeteria or out to lunch near the hospital, or simply make sure she gets some outside time by taking a walk outside the hospital doors.
If you are kind enough to drop off a meal or a care package for your friend, relieve them of the expectation to visit or even interact. Your friend may not have the mental energy to devote to a visit. Instead of coordinating a time to meet up, consider leaving meals in a cooler on the front porch.
Give empathy and reassurance
If you do get to visit, whether in person or over text or phone or email, be ready to lend a nonjudgmental ear. Allow your friend the space to vent. Avoid trying to offer solutions.
For those who have never been through a NICU stay, it’s hard to know what to do or say. The above advice will help your friend or family member feel loved and supported while going through an immensely stressful time.