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12 Ways to Support a Friend With a NICU Baby

Submitted by on October 26, 2011 – 7:00 am7 Comments

Newborn Infant

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 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


  • KMerritt says:

    Our twins were in the NICU and Special Care for 5 weeks. Three things I would add to this list…First, if the babies are multiples and one comes home before the other, having someone baby sit so the new mom can visit her baby at the hospital is a God-send. The baby that goes home is not allowed back to the NICU…Second, meet your friend at the hospital for a quick sanity break if she’s spending full days there. It’s easy to become obsessed over your child when they’re in the NICU. Taking a break and having a chat with a friend over a coffee or bottled water can do wonders for the new mom’s morale….Third, if your friend has to go back to work before the baby comes home, offer to visit and rock the baby. So many Special Care babies are left alone most of the day. It always made me happy to see volunteers holding my babies and giving them love.

  • NTKids says:

    Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experience and more helpful tips with us! It’s tough to see a friend go through something like this and most of us don’t know how to react or what to say. Hearing first hand that it’s okay to offer help and understanding how to help is great!

  • Kristy says:

    I would add go ahead and just do things for the family without asking. I am mother who has two 31 weekers 3 years apart. My husband and I have a hard time excepting help. We do not like to bother people with our problems. I was on bedrest in the hospital 10 days before my 2nd son was born then he was in the NICU for 6 weeks. The hospital was 2 hours away round trip. I found out after my son was home from the NICU friends had offered to mow our yard. My husband said no because he did not want to burden anyone. There was also a bad storm and part of our fence fell. We ended up getting a notice from our HOH because we did not have time to deal with it. It would have been nice for the friends that asked if they could help to have just mowed our yard and/or fix our fence without asking.

  • Kerrie says:

    Thanks, Kristy and KMerritt. I agree with your extra information completely. It is good to try to get your mind off the situation b/c it is a dark time. Also, yep, my friends just came on over and started cleaning my house. I felt guilty just sitting around and hanging out with my other kids, but I was recovering from endometriitis and was really relieved to have my laundry put away and my floors vacuumed. Hubs had been home but was trying do work, so it was hard for him to pick up all the slack!

  • Ladies, I’m doing a follow-up to this piece about when you get home potentially titled After the NICU. If you can speak to this topic, please write me at mommykerrie at yahoo dot com … tips, quotes, etc. about how to help out parents who have brought home a NICU baby (like don’t have a million visitors right away, you still need meals and help, people need to be understanding about the special care and the fact that Mom will be a little jumpy perhaps). THANKS!

  • […] keep the help, comfort meals and other forms of support coming as much as you can. Just as when the baby was in the NICU, keep the Care Calendar active and make sure as many people as possible know about it. Offer to […]

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