When the NICU is Home – How to help when a friend or family member's child is in the NICU

preemie in mother's arms, tips for supporting

Madison Forrest, a two-week-old premie, smiles as she rests in her mother’s arms in the Tucson Medical Center’s Neonatal intensive care unit, Monday, October 3, 2011. Forrest was six and a half weeks early and now weighs four pounds and 20 oz.

With all births we hope for a gentle entry of a new being into the world, but sometimes that isn’t the way it happens. When your child arrives early or there are complications, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) becomes your home. Melissa, a Tucson mother, shares her perspective about how friends and family can help when your baby has to be in the NICU for an extended time period. Melissa’s baby M arrived quite a bit earlier than expected and is now a fabulous preschooler. 

 What can friends and families do to help when baby is in the NICU?

  1. Say congratulations first.  When your little one arrives early, no-one congratulates you on the birth.  Welcome that baby to the world!
  2. Show up with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and two spoons.  If you don’t know what to say, try, “I don’t know what to say, but I am here for you” and listen without judgement.
  3. Bring meals to the hospital. If the parents are like us, they are at the NICU 24 hours a day.
  4. Offer to take care of pets at home, get mail, water plants, etc.
  5. Offer to pick up things or to have things shipped to your address so someone doesn’t need to be home to sign for them. If baby arrived early, they may not have got car seats, cribs, diapers, etc., yet.
  6. Offer to take the car and car seat to a certified installer to make sure it is installed correctly.  That one was on my list of things to do that I never got to.

TMC NICU-18
The one piece of — well, not really advice, but just support, that I will always remember was from a coworker that I barely knew and had rarely communicated with.  It arrived via email two days after M was born.  He wanted to let me know that he and his wife were once brand-new parents to a preemie girl who started her life in the NICU and he understood what we were experiencing.  He also wanted to let me know that he was writing from California, where they attended USC’s winter commencement and watched their preemie graduate with her MBA.  🙂  I really appreciated his sensitivity to my acute fears — what does the prematurity mean to my child’s future?  He nailed it right on the head without having to say something cliche, like “everything will be fine”.

Each family’s experience is different. If your child has been in the NICU what could or did friends and family do to support you?