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 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 and it’s one of the easy ways to help 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.
Foods that can be eaten quickly and are filling are ideal meals for a NICU parent. We weren’t allowed any sort of foods into the actual NICU rooms and I mostly ate on my pumping breaks. I spent a lot of time sitting so meals that would fill me up well were helpful. When I got home after a long day all I wanted to do was pump and sleep, so food I could grab without having to think were amazing.
GIFT CARDS GALORE!
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 and the unexpected birth and NICU stay meant I hadn’t had much time to financially prepare. So money started to get pretty tight pretty fast.
Find out what restaurants and coffee shops are inside the hospital as well as walking distance from the hospital and give gift cards. Around here our hospitals have common chains – Starbucks, Pizza Pizza, Pita Pit… It makes it fairly easy to send one.
Outside of food, general gift cards like a Visa gift card are useful too. There’s frequently a need to suddenly grab preemie or newborn sized clothing, it means they can buy from the cafeteria or a grocery store or it can be used for unexpected baby expenses like preemie clothing!
This is a great gift to give if you live far away and are struggling to find ways to help a NICU parent. Many shops and stores allow you to purchase and send e-gift cards now so you can send your gift straight to their email inbox.
BABYSIT SIBLINGS (AND PETS!)
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 having to constantly balance having care for our toddler and spending time in the NICU. Having a roster of friends and family who were prepared to take care of our toddler 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.
If they have pets, you could also offer to take over their feeding and walking schedule.
GIFT THEM NICU “ESSENTIALS”
The NICU can get lonely and boring really fast. Especially for me – I was in a personal NICU ‘pod’ as opposed to an open room. While the privacy of my own little pod was great and definitely helped with my independence I spent a lot of time all by myself. It lead to hours of Netflix, doom scrolling and staring out the same window in an uncomfortable chair with a numb butt.
If you know that no one has done this already (or do it together as a group!) you could pull together a basket of useful essentials to help out and make the NICU feel more comfortable.
Some of my favourite items include:
- A nice journal with a pen for writing
- A big, 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
- Colouring book with unscented markers
- Neck Pillow
- Cozy robe
- Lip balm
- Comfy socks or slippers
- Snacks like granola bars, protein bars and trail mix
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. I walked into the NICU one day to find out the girls were ready to graduate to their next type of cot that was unheated and they’d need clothing, swaddle blankets and hats – all items I hadn’t bought yet!
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 was exhausted, I was sore since I was still recovering from a c-section and I had had a major milk leak in the middle of the mall. I still had to wash and dry the new clothes, blankets and hats before I could bring them in, too! I felt so guilty that I had taken all of this time to shop and not been with the girls.
In hind sight the twins were perfectly fine and they didn’t know any different. They spent 99% of their NICU time sleeping and they had an amazing team of nurses to take care of them. I still felt like a terrible mom and hated that I had wasted all that time that I could have spent cuddling my tiny humans. So, if you can swing it then offer to shop for the preemie essentials 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 (just make sure it’s unscented!). 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 usually have to pay for hospital parking even if you’re at the hospital every single day! Many hospitals do offer discounted parking passes for patients (or their parents) who are spending time in the hospital daily. However the cost still adds up fast! If you live near the hospital or it’s on your way into work and can offer a lift, go for it. Even if it’s only occasionally it could be a huge relief.
If not, you could offer to help pay for a parking pass or transit pass. I heavily relied on public transit to get me to and from the hospital since I’m someone who doesn’t drive. Yes – that includes the week they were born and I was freshly recovering from a c-section. Public transit can be really pricy depending on where you live for a monthly pass so offering to help pay for it can be great ways to help a NICU parent.
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 and when they do they’re usually only about baby.
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. I wanted to talk to people but I was equally too tired to carry a conversation.
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 – but don’t be offended if they don’t accept your offer or if they leave you on read either. Be there for support with no expectations!
There you have it! My top seven ways to help a NICU parent in your life. I don’t think anything can truly take the pain of it away but these kind gestures can make the whole situation a little easier to handle. Of course there will always be other suggestions but these feel like the top seven that could fit any family’s needs and life.