12 Ways to Support a Friend With a NICU Baby
By Kerrie McLoughlin
When my friend Laura had a baby in the NICU, I didn’t realize how life-changing it was for her. The only way I helped out was by watching her older son for a few hours one day so she could visit her new baby at the hospital. It wasn’t until I had my own baby in the NICU years later that I understood how much more I could have done for her.
Maybe you know someone who has just had a baby that was transferred to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The mom’s hormones are a mess, and she is overwhelmed. She has to learn the lay of the NICU land (washing hands constantly, filling out insurance and other paperwork, memorizing hours and rules) while also taking care of things at home like meals, housework and giving updates. And if she has other kids at home, she also has to worry about their day-to-day care.
The unexpectedness of having a baby in the NICU can put strain on a marriage, on a job, on family and on friendships. She expected to bring home a baby within a few days and instead may be making a daily trek to the hospital for months on end. Oh, and don’t forget that she is trying to recover from giving birth while also handling many other things. She is exhausted mentally, physically and emotionally. Don’t worry … there are so many ways you can help!
1. Start by signing up for an amazing free service (donor supported) called www.CareCalendar.org. Collect basic information from the parents (like meal, childcare, housework, yardwork and errand needs), then let their friends, family, church members and neighbors sign up to help out as convenient. Instead of the parents spending hours giving updates, it’s all on the Care Calendar.
2. Whether you choose to use the Care Calendar or not, try to tactfully notify well-wishers that it’s not a good idea to expect a long visit when they drop off a meal for the new parents, either before or immediately after their baby comes home.
3. Remember that meals do not have to be homemade! A couple would enjoy a takeout meal from the local Chinese restaurant or pizza place just as much as a homemade casserole. Canned soup, frozen pizza and bagged salad are still food! Too much food is a good problem to have!
4. When you bring a meal, also bring paper products like cups, napkins, plates and bowls. Not having to do dishes is a godsend for parents with limited time at home.
5. If the parents don’t have other children at home, realize that doing simple things like picking up postage stamps, grabbing milk or caring for a pet mean more time and energy the parents can spend on their new baby.
6. If the parents do have other kids, those kids are also affected by the stressful situation. Offer to pick up the kids and have them over to your house to play or take them to a park or a restaurant with a play area so the parents can get some sleep. Get them out of the house and their minds off the fact that their parents are gone more than usual. Offer to babysit at their house if they prefer.
7. If the parents live far from the hospital, try to raise some money to pay for a hotel for as long as possible.
8. Realize that a NICU visitor list is limited, and the parents can only put so many names on it. Because security has to be tight, you can’t just drop into the NICU anytime to see the new baby. Not having to try to get everyone in to see the baby takes some pressure off the parents.
9. Bring magazines for the parents to read while they are at the hospital.
10. Offer to clean out the car the baby will be coming home in. Offer to get the car seat professionally installed.
11. Offer to bring something to the NICU from home, like messages, paperwork, favorite clothing or pillows.
12. Offer to return phone calls, email photos of the baby and give updates to family, friends and neighbors who may be asking for information.
I know when I had a baby in distress in the NICU, I was not worrying about who was washing my underwear of if someone was putting my pots and pans in the right place. Your friend will certainly appreciate anything you can do for her during this time in her life.
Kerrie McLoughlin digs being mom to her NICU baby Sam, his 2 big brothers and his 2 big sisters. Chat them up at TheKerrieShow.com.