Having a baby in the NICU is tough, whether they are there for a few days or a few months.
Being separated from your newborn baby is hard, and being there for them in the hospital so many hours a day can be draining.
Parents of babies in the NICU are often exhausted, terrified, hopeful,, running on empty, and falling deeply in love with their new baby.
It is an incredibly difficult time, and one you really cannot understand unless you have experienced it yourself.
So, what can you do?
How To Help A Friend Who Has A Baby In The NICU
As a friend or family member, you have the power to make things a little easier for the new parents, and here's how:
#1: Congratulate Them
All too often, premature birth announcements are met with commiserations rather than celebrations. Of course, a preterm birth is not ideal, but the new parents are still welcoming their baby into the world. Join them in this celebration. Send a card and a gift, do whatever you would with the arrival of any new baby.
#2: Have No Expectations
Do not help out in return for baby cuddles, or for a glimpse at the newborn. Help to help, and make sure the parents know that you aren't expecting anything in return.
#3: Offer A Delivery Service
As the parents stay at the NICU with their newborn baby, you can help them by offering to pick up any personal items they might need. Chances are, the couple weren't expecting to spend time in the NICU after the birth, and so may have left necessary items at home. Tell them to write you a list, and that you'll make sure you drop off each item for them so that they can stay with their babies.
#4: Become A Taxi Driver
If the parents can't drive, or if mum has been advised not to while she recovers from the birth, offer your services as a personal driver. Reducing the costs of taxis, or sparing mum that agonising drive (because many will do it regardless of medical advice when they have a baby in the NICU), could really help the parents out.
#5: Help With Their Older Kids
If the new baby has a sibling or two waiting at home, provide a babysitting service free of charge. If you can help out with daycare or school drop offs, stay overnight with the children, or take them out for the day, that would free up some extra time so that both parents can spend more time with the new baby.
#6: Help With Their Pets
It's not just kids who can impact on NICU time, furry family members need looking after to. If you are able to help out with dog walks, cat feeding, cleaning out hutches, and spending time with family pets so that they do not feel anxious or abandoned, that would allow the parents to spend more time at the NICU.
Find out if any of the pets need medication, and offer to do this if you are able. To provide the most help, you could foster the animals at your house for a short while, allowing the parents to spend all of their free time with the new baby. If the family has children and pets, however, it is important to bear in mind that animals often offer emotional support to family members, and the children may feel happier with the pets at home.
#7: Provide Entertainment
Spending hours in the NICU can be tough, and the hours spent in the lactation rooms can be even worse. Send magazines, books, films, and games – everything you can think of that could help the parents to occupy their minds as they wait for their babies to be ready to leave the NICU.
#8: Send Books For The Baby
Parents with babies in the NICU don't get too many opportunities to feel like everybody else, but reading to their baby is something they can do. Send an assortment of books for them to read to their new baby, it will help them pass the time, give them chance to bond, and help them to build that parenting confidence everyone needs.
Don't just send simple baby books, remember they have a lot of time to spare, so send some longer novels like Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter, to pass the hours.
#9: Help With The Costs
Having a baby in the NICU can be expensive. The hospital may be located a long way from home, meaning parents endure high petrol prices or have to fork out for hotels. This isn't something many parents budget for when planning life with a new baby, but it can amount to a lot of money.
If the parents are doing a lot of driving, fill their tank up for them. If they're staying at a hotel, ring the hotel and pay for a night of accommodation for the parents.
#10: Feed Them
A new parent with a baby in the NICU, is unlikely to sit down three times a day for meals. They simply forget their own needs, in the quest to be close to their babies – but everyone has to eat. Send snacks, home cooked meals and takeaway food to the NICU with disposable cutlery so that the parents can eat without having to go far.
#11: Tidy Their Home
If the parents are toing and froing from home, their house might be getting into a bit of a state. Spare them the time of tidying their house, by doing it for them, and free them up to spend the time bonding with their new baby. Each time you go round, do a load of washing, clean the bathroom, do the washing up, and help to reorganise the living room. When the parents are due to bring their baby home for the first time, make sure their house is sparkling from top to bottom.
#12: Fill Their Freezer
Even when the family are finally free of the NICU, it will probably take them a while to fall back into the routine of everyday life. Help them out by filling their freezer with home cooked meals that just need reheating, and make sure you leave instructions of how to reheat.
#13: Donate Blood
Babies in the NICU often need donated blood to help them survive. While the blood you donate won't necessarily be going directly into your friend's baby, it will be going to help save a life, so donate blood today.
#14: Be There
Just be there, whenever your friends need you. Whether they want a shoulder to cry on, an ear to chew off, or someone to distract them momentarily from reality, be that person.
#15: Stay In Touch
Don't disappear. Stay in touch, and make sure the new parents know you are thinking of them. Send regular texts to find out how they're doing, speak on the phone if they are able, and meet them for a coffee in the cafeteria when they have time.