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27 Ways to Help Parents With Children in the NICU

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The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) can be an overwhelming, stressful place for new parents. During this time, it can be hard for these parents to find the support they need — or find the words to ask for it. Similarly, their loved ones might want to help but aren’t sure where to start.

We asked two of our Facebook communities (our Mighty Facebook page and our new Preemie Stories on The Mighty Facebook page) for advice on the best ways to show support and love. These are just some of the great responses from parents who currently have or have had a child in the NICU.

1. Provide a shoulder to cry on and a hand to hold.

“Allowing me to vent my frustrations and cry and question everything regardless of how off-center the question may have been really helped me get through the NICU stay for my daughter. Being an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on and a hand to hold is more powerful than a casserole delivered to feed me.” — Emily Perkins

2. Be forgiving.

“There are many emotions experienced each day. It can be overwhelming, exhausting and scary. Know your help, love and friendship is greatly valued, even if it doesn’t feel like it.” — Nicole Gosbell

3. Reach out with a simple “Hey, how are you?”

“My son was in the NICU for just six months… Aside from my mother being there for me, it was the most alone and isolating feeling in the world. Life was going on around me, while my son fought for his every breath. Don’t forgot to reach out. A simple “hey, how are you” can go a long way. More than you think.” — Nicole Richnavsky

4. Listen without comparing.

“Be a listening ear without comparing. Don’t say you know how hard it is to leave my baby at night because you get sad dropping yours off at daycare. Just listen and validate what we are feeling.” — Meghan Williams

5. Ask if there’s anything needed. And keep asking.

“Being a NICU parent is overwhelming. We don’t know what we need, but if friends and family text, call or email and ask to pick up groceries, offer to babysit or animal sit, drop off meals to you at the hospital, [it lets] NICU families know you are there. Keep asking… even once the baby is discharged, please keep checking in.” — Jason Heather Tanner

6. Say “Congratulations,” not “I’m so sorry.”

“There’s room for condolences, but I was just as proud of my beautiful new son as any of my others, and it meant so much to me when someone acknowledged what a blessing he was, even in hard circumstances.” — Jere Ann Keefe

7. Buy gas gift cards.

“Gas cards! Money was tight and the NICU was a 30-minute drive we would make sometimes twice a day. It helped a relieved a bit of financial stress.” — Mallory Duncan

8. Cook a home-cooked meal.

“I know it may seem small, but someone cook my family a homemade dinner. When the hospital is your home for weeks or months, homemade food is a blessing!” — Shon James

9. Keep the snack supply steady.

“Snacks! I never knew when a doctor would stop by… And often when they did, I would be away trying to grab a quick bite to eat. Having snacks to nibble on until I felt confident to leave for a bit was the smartest thing! I had a few family members bring baskets of different types of things, and it was for sure a blessing!” — Amy Krogh Brentlinger

“I had a friend drop off fresh fruit. Best gift ever!” — Shannon Williams

10. Create a comforting playlist and put it on a CD.

“A friend gave me a CD of mixed music. I used to leave the NICU and drive… with it blasting as I cried my eyes out. It’s now one of our favorite CDs and I watch our survivor sing the songs on there. It gave great comfort to us.” — Tiffany Spoor

11. Don’t be afraid to bring up the NICU.

“When our daughter was in the NICU, it was like no one wanted to discuss the fact [that] I was home without my baby. Ask about what’s going on, how treatment is going.” — Lyndsay Rae Withey

12. Give space when it’s needed.

“We know you want to see my baby, but we (the parents) really need space to understand what’s going on and prepare for life after a NICU baby. There’s already a lot of stress knowing your child is fighting for his life, [but] trying to also juggle your desire to visit and need to be near my sick child is only making me more anxious.” — Afton Fisher

13. Connect however you can.

“Visiting, calling, texting or connecting in any way! The worst thing you can do is nothing. It can be a very scary and emotional time, especially if the NICU was completely unexpected.” — Evana Sandusky

14. Just be there.

“You don’t have to say or do anything special. Just be there for me to lean on, cry on, vent my frustrations. Believe me, if I need anything else, I’ll ask.” — Laine Larsen

15. Send them to get fresh air while you sit with the baby.

“… Honestly, someone who said, ‘I will stay here for a bit. Go, just go outside and get some fresh air.’ It is so important to take care of yourself, too, and it is the most difficult to remember!” — Nikki Trethewy

16. Or stay home with the rest of the family so the parents can go back to the hospital.

“My son spent 62 days in the NICU, and my daughter was only 17 months old. A woman from our church, whom I had only known for three months, came over almost every afternoon during my daughter’s nap so I could go to the hospital to be with my son. Oftentimes I would come home to find she had straightened up or done the dishes or fixed my daughter’s post-nap hair. She was truly my saving grace during what was the most difficult time in my life.” — Nikki Kuculyn

17. Take care of chores at home.

“My dad came and mowed our lawn and my mom and sister did little things in the house while I was at the hospital.” — Mary Le Mieux

18. Don’t forget about the dads.

“Moms and babies are quite often the center of attention, and rightfully so. But, don’t forget about the fathers and the emotional toll they pay as well.” — Corey F. Ferguson

19. Take laundry off the to-do list.

“Take my clothes home and wash them so I don’t have to be away from my baby to do laundry.” — Jessica Owens Loyd

20. Bring coffee and donuts for parents and hospital staff.

“Hospital coffee is terrible. Get to know the parents’ favorite coffee and bring it without having to be asked around 7 a.m. before morning rounds start. Even better, bring donuts for the nurses and staff!” — Erin Ponton Fiero

21. Bring napkins, plates and utensils, too.

“When bringing food, pack it in individual servings and include napkins and plastic cutlery. Sometimes trying to run around the unit and look for plates, pour soup into bowls, or ask around for spoons can take too much time and cause unnecessary distraction.” — Erin Ponton Fiero

22. Make a lunch date at the hospital cafeteria.

“A dear friend took me down to the cafeteria for lunch a few times. She never stayed too long but gave me the company I needed during such a lonely time, forcing myself to eat in a room full of strangers.” — Holly Saltzman

23. Help mom get around the hospital if she needs it.

“After a caesarian, I needed someone to wheel me from maternity to NICU.” — Sandra Grant

24. Give the parents a night off.

“Understand you and your spouse need alone time with your child. The times you are at the hospital may be the only times extended family can visit your preemie, but it is also the only time you can visit your baby. Volunteer to help entertain older siblings. Do something fun so Mom and Dad don’t have to feel guilty about leaving them.” — David-Annalise Almas

25. Don’t forget about the pets.

“My son was is the NICU for 166 days. Every day my neighbor took my beloved doggie. I never had to ask her, she would just text me and say, ‘What time will Winnie be coming over?’ It was the best thing anyone did for us, and I’ll never forget that support.” — Lisa Warren

26. Keep supporting them after the baby comes home.

“Remember that for many NICU families, our medical journey often doesn’t end once our babies are well enough to leave the confines of the NICU… that for many, we continue onwards with appointments and follow-ups and health concerns… and that we as families still need that wonderful support you gave while we were focused on that miracle in an incubator surrounded by wires and noise and our love and fears. Be tolerant of our need to keep our babies safe as they grow stronger and understand that we, as parents and as carers, might not be the same people now as we were going in.” — Cat Hart

27. Do anything.

“Anything! An ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, just having someone there. You really see who true friends and family are during times like this. I know I did.” — Renee N Dennis Ferreira

What would you add to this list? Let us know in the comment section below.

Originally published: February 3, 2016
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