Your family member or friend just had a NICU baby, and you are eager to provide help and support wherever possible but aren’t quite sure where to start. The first weeks and sometimes months, while the baby is in the NICU, are very stressful for parents. One of the most thoughtful ways to support parents of a NICU baby is a NICU care basket – a gift basket or package you can deliver to the hospital or leave on their doorstep.
We went to the experts, current and graduate NICU parents, for ideas on what they would appreciate and what would help them the most during their baby’s NICU stay. Individual circumstances must be given careful consideration, so pick and choose the best options if you’re preparing a NICU care basket, or even let NICU parents browse through the list and tell you what they would like the most.
Gift Cards, Food, & Money
NICU parents overwhelmingly expressed that monetary items are the ones they need the most and would be great to include in a NICU care basket. These include:
- Gift cards to the hospital cafeteria, if applicable
- Gift cards to nearby restaurants, coffee shops, and grocery stores
- Gift certificates to food delivery services like Door Dash, GrubHub, Uber Eats, etc.
- Visa gift cards for those non-store specific items that might need to be purchased during the hospital stay
- Cash & rolls of quarters for vending machines
- Healthy snacks high in protein, fresh fruit, a reusable water bottle, and coffee thermos were additional items parents noted as necessities during their stay.
- Care Calendars are an excellent way for families to receive home cooked meals and to include family and friends that want to help in other ways. Remember to always bring food over in disposable containers that do not need to be washed and returned.
Record keeping is essential in the NICU. NICU parents recommended:
- A pretty journal and pen were essential to a NICU stay to document their experience
- A notebook, calendar, or planner is helpful to hold valuable information from the hospital and keep track of appointments and significant dates.
- A specialized NICU journal to mark those precious milestones would be thoughtful. We love this NICU journal from Every Tiny Thing
- A camera to place by the baby’s bedside was expressed as critical so nurses can take pictures while parents are not there
- A gift certificate for a family photo session from a photographer willing to allow no expiration date gives something for the parents to look forward to when the NICU stay is over.
- Gift cards for digital prints, a pre-made baby scrapbook (just insert pictures), picture frames, stamps and stationery would also be appreciated.
Self-Care & Pampering
It is not uncommon for mothers of NICU babies to put themselves on the back burner. Helping mom to feel as “normal” as possible is critical for her wellbeing and health. Here are a few items to include in your NICU care basket that are necessities, but will also help parents feel a little pampered:
- Travel essentials: toothbrush, toothpaste, face wash, deodorant, dry shampoo, brush, chapstick, gum, mints, Ibuprofen
- Unscented (very) moisturizing lotion are great to add to a gift basket.
- Hand sanitizer is a critical addition to any gift basket, as well as a box or small packet of soft tissues for when those tears just won’t stop flowing.
- A sweet touch to include would be a mirror for her to see baby’s face during kangaroo care. Talk about melting mama’s heart to a puddle just seeing that sweet face up close!
- Pumping supplies: an electric pump, hands free pumping bra, nipple cream, nipple gel ice packs, breast pads, and freezer-safe bottles or breast milk bags for expressed milk will come in very handy for NICU pumping sessions.
- Cozy items: consider adding cozy socks, slippers, a robe (also helpful for kangaroo care), and a blanket. A soft travel pillow, eye mask, earbuds or headphones would come in handy during those long days or overnight stays.
- Miscellaneous: Packets of calming tea can do wonders for mom’s spirits. If mom can get away for a bit, gift cards for massages, manicures, pedicures, and haircuts would be great to include. If the NICU mom prefers to stay close, a fun subscription box like Ipsy or FabFitFun might lift her mood and take her thoughts away from the stress for just a moment.
Days in the NICU can seem to last forever. Help them pass the time with these entertaining ideas:
- Paperback books to read, audio books (check out Audible), and magazines
- Books on the NICU experience for parents and siblings, as well as books on life after the NICU are welcomed additions.
- Playing cards, puzzles, or dominoes are great to pass the time and have a little bit of fun when visitors come.
- Hand to Hold’s NICU Now podcast can be listened to in the car or right by baby’s bedside.
On the Go
Many parents spend enormous amounts of time driving back and forth to the hospital, to take care of other children or tend to their home.
- Gift cards for gasoline
- Hospital parking pass
- Money for a car rental
- Prepaid room at a nearby hotel
- A compact bag to carry pumping supplies, or a cute travel bag for clothes would be a nice thought.
- Extra phone chargers to keep at the hospital or in a travel bag.
- Child care, so both parents can visit the NICU together
- Hire someone to mow the grass, clean the house, and consider hiring a meal delivery service that provides ready-to-eat meals.
For the Baby
Parents love to see their new baby’s name around their NICU area.
- A cute handmade name sign for outside the isolette or bed or a personalized baby blanket are items parents enjoy receiving.
- If you know the baby can wear clothes, preemie-sized hats or socks and preemie clothing with snaps rather than zippers for tube and wire access are great additions to a gift basket.
- If the NICU allows, a small music player with gentle tunes to play at the baby’s bedside, a frame for a family picture near the baby’s bedside, and books to read to the baby are all great gifts that will bring comfort to both baby and parents.
Parents with a baby in the NICU need support. They need a listening and nonjudgmental ear. They need hugs. They need to know they are not alone. Write thoughtful letters, inspirational quotes, or poems that parents can read when they are feeling down. Let them know about these free Hand to Hold resources:
- Virtual support groups
- Request a peer mentor
- Counseling for NICU parents
- Download Hand to Hold app
- Hand to Hold’s podcast channels
Now that you are armed with great ideas from parents that have lived through the NICU experience, you may want to take into account a few things before assembling your basket.
How early is the baby and is there a chance he/she won’t survive? If so, be very careful and don’t give baby clothes, nursery decorations, or anything that would emphasize the loss if the baby passed away.
Is the baby in an isolette or a crib? Some NICU facilities don’t allow clothes on babies while they are in the isolette. Most of the time a baby in an open crib can wear clothes and hats, and possibly booties or socks.
Do either of the parents spend a lot of time at the hospital with the baby or do they work? Do they have other children that need care? If they spend a lot of time in the NICU, they will appreciate having things to do there like journaling and reading books. If they have are unable be in the NICU for extended periods, they may not need time-fillers. Regardless, either situation will benefit immensely from a maid service, a meal train, gift cards for quick meals, and cash.
As noted, every circumstance facilitates different needs, and every hospital has different sets of rules. If you are unsure, talk with the nurses about their policies and talk with the parents about their wishes. Rest assured, anything you put together is appreciated in their time of overwhelm.
For support in the NICU and beyond, download the Hand to Hold app and join our community, a safe and inviting environment to connect with Hand to Hold Family Support Specialists and other NICU parents to find support whenever and wherever you need it. Learn more.