SEVEN WAYS TO HELP A NICU PARENT
Finding out a friend or family member has a little one in the NICU is never fun and can leave you feeling a little helpless on what you can do for them. What to give and how to help a NICU parent is a question I see pop up frequently in parenting groups! Having been a NICU parent myself for seven weeks, I thought back to what I needed most during that time. Here’s my top seven ways to help out a NICU parent!
HELP OUT WITH FOOD
I’m going to make this one front and centre because food was one of the biggest struggles about being a NICU parent. Meal prep for those parents! Stock their fridge, freezer and pantry with grab and go meals and snacks. Bake lactation cookies and stock up on granola bars. Maybe even start a meal train. While every hospital I stayed in had a kitchen area for the parents to use taking the time to go out, do groceries and prep meals was really hard. Either I was at the hospital with the twins or I was so exhausted that I couldn’t think straight at the grocery store. This led to a lot of prepackaged foods and takeout. While most hospitals have cafeterias hospital food get’s really bland and expensive fast – and as a vegetarian it was extremely limited in choices.
GIFT CARDS GALORE!
Find out what restaurants and coffee shops are inside the hospital as well as walking distance from the hospital and give gift cards – especially for coffee if they drink it! Second Cup and Starbucks got a hell of a lot of my money while we were in the NICU. At the same time, my maternity leave benefits were extremely delayed thanks to all the people applying at the same time as me. So money started to get pretty tight pretty fast. This is a great gift to give if you live far away, as many shops allow you to purchase and send e-gift cards now!
This one was huge for us. We weren’t prepared with plans on what to do with our toddler if I went into premature labour so when I did, we panicked! We were very fortunate that we had close friends and neighbours who could watch her in the first week until we moved and then family to take turns watching her for the two weeks after that. Then it was up to us to rotate work schedules and fit my NICU time around their overlaps. It was hectic and stressful and having babysitters would have helped immensely. So if you can, offer yourself up to babysit those kiddos at home. Even just one afternoon or night could make a big difference.
GIFT BASKET OF NICU ESSENTIALS
Pull together a basket of useful essentials to help out and make the NICU feel more comfortable. Items could include:
- A nice journal with a pen for writing
- A good, leakproof reusable water bottle
- Hand sanitizer
- A Netflix or Disney+ Gift Card (every hospital I stayed in had free wifi – all the binge watching!)
- Sudoku or Crossword books
- Neck Pillow
- Cozy robe
- Lip balm
- Comfy slippers
It’s hard to feel at home in the NICU and while I knew we were in for a long stay I struggled to allow myself to bring items and let it feel cozy and comfy. One of my best friends brought me a huge package after I delivered with recovery items, snacks, fuzzy socks, etc and it was a huge help both mentally and physically.
OFFER TO SHOP FOR PREEMIE/NEWBORN CLOTHES
One of the worst days I had during our NICU stay was the day I had to go shopping for preemie & newborn sized clothing. Preemie and under 7lbs/newborn clothing isn’t a range that all brands carry. Even then, some brands that carry them only carry them online. So when I found out it was time for the girls to move out of their isolates and would need to be layered in clothing I hit up the mall the next morning. Then I hit up another mall. Then I headed to another store. Then another. Even headed to a few thrift stores. By the time I had enough sleepers and onesies to dress a pair of tiny twins, it was 5pm and I still hadn’t been to the hospital. I still had to wash and dry the new clothes and pump before I could head there, too. In hind sight the twins were perfectly fine and they didn’t know any different. But I felt like a terrible mom and hated that I had wasted all that time that I could have spent cuddling my tiny humans. So, offer to do it for them. Go out and buy the tiny clothes and some nice swaddling blankets. Add a few nice baby hats. Offer to wash them and bring them in even. It’s the small actions that make a big difference.
MONEY FOR PARKING – OR OFFER TO DRIVE
I might be wrong but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that hospital parking is expensive no matter where you live. Yes – you have to pay even if you’re at the hospital every single day! If you’re going to be spending a long stay at the hospital you can usually get discounted parking. But the cost still adds up fast! So if you live near the hospital and can offer a lift, go for it. If not, you could offer to help pay for a parking pass.
CHECK IN ON A REGULAR BASIS
The great gift that costs nothing: the gift of checking in on the NICU parents. There’s a pattern that happens with childbirth in general: a parent gives birth, everyone’s excited. Everyone wants to see the baby and know how the baby is doing. Then the days and weeks start to pass and the excitement level dies down. The visits don’t happen as often, the messages stop coming in. This isn’t any different being a NICU parent. It’s incredibly isolating and lonely to sit in a NICU ward day in or day out. It got lonelier the longer time went on and the more independent I became with the babies. I was in a room by myself, the nurses didn’t need to visit often and I couldn’t have visitors. It was rare for Hubby to be in the NICU with me since he was either working or at home with the toddler.
I was in a weird place where I craved human interaction but wasn’t sure how to initiate conversation that wasn’t about the new babies. So if you have friends and family who are NICU parents don’t presume they’re being taken care of or that they’re too busy to talk. Send a little message letting them know you’re there and you care. Offer to meet them at the hospital for a coffee break or for some lunch. Let them know someone cares about them!
There you have it! My top seven ways to help out a NICU parent in your life. I don’t think anything can truly take the pain of it away but these kinds gestures can make the whole situation a lot easier to handle. Of course there will always be others but these feel like the top seven that could fit any family’s needs and life. Be sure to check out my other NICU related content too!