“Just think about the last time you felt really sad and a friend or family member came and sat with you or reached out and just supported you. It didn’t make the situation you were sad about go away, but it did help you feel better and more able to face the problem.”
~Dr. Caroline Leaf
Whether you’re a friend, family member or grandparent, seeing your loved one in the NICU with their precious baby is never easy, but especially during the holidays. Sometimes we aren’t sure what to do, so we do nothing, but let me tell you, there are many things you can do to express your care and concern.
Parents find themselves in an unexpected and often overwhelming situation, facing the fragility of their newborn. No one is prepared for the emotional rollercoaster that comes with having a baby in the NICU, so any assistance/support they receive can make a significant difference.
You can support NICU parents by not only addressing immediate needs but also recognizing the long-term impact this experience may have on the entire family. By offering support, we contribute to their resilience and ability to navigate the challenges that may arise.
“There is endless research showing that engaging positively with a social support network, in a giving as well as getting way, correlates with a number of desirable outcomes. Being part of a community helps us…improve cognitive resilience, reduction in chronic pain, lower blood pressure and improved cardiovascular health. When we engage with others, our cortisol levels go down while the neurotransmitters serotonin & dopamine balance in our brains.”
~Dr. Caroline Leaf
Here are 10 easy ways to support NICU parents during the holiday season:
1. Feed them! Take meals to their home or send restaurant gift cards. Preparing a meal that can be frozen is a great idea, that way they can eat it whenever is convenient. Gift cards to some of their favorite fast-food joints is always a great idea. Meet them at the hospital cafeteria for lunch or dinner. Buy their meal and let them talk. Give them a hug and let them know you love them.
2. Let parents express their emotions. Allow them to be shattered, sad, exhausted and mad. Just because a parent expresses their feelings of grief, doesn’t mean they aren’t grateful for their baby. Listen to them and tell them that you hear them, you see them. Let them process their pain. You don’t have to fix anything. Just your presence can make them feel better.
3. Take care of their pets. Take the dog on a walk. Pet sit. This will take 1 thing off their to-do list and free up some much needed time to be with their baby in the NICU.
4. Gift cards for gas or transportation. Some families drive long distances to see their little one in the NICU, a gift card for gas or an uber can be so helpful on the budget.
5. Be mindful about what you say. Saying things like, “it could be worse”, “when is your baby coming home?”, “or “aren’t you glad they’re alive?” These expressions may be true, but they are not helpful. Instead, let them know you are praying for them and thinking about them. Express your concern for them.
6. Don’t forget the Dads. Dads are often forgotten in the NICU. They are grieving and struggling too. Often silently. SO be sure you’re reaching out to them as well and checking in to make sure their needs are being met as well.
7. Celebrate the big things and the little things. Whenever baby meets a milestone in the NICU, celebrate big 🎉 because these are really important! Some exciting milestones to celebrate: first day off ventilator, the 1st bath, 1st time to skin-to-skin, 1st breastfeeding and bottle feeding.
8. Carpool their other children, baby sit or offer for their kids to join your family for an outing, dinner or game night.
9. Send a quick video or text, say the baby’s name out loud & let them know you are hoping for the best. Don’t expect them to always reply to your text or voicemail. Parents in the NICU are physically and emotionally drained. Rest assured they received your text, voicemail or gift and it made their day!
10. Send a special gift! For the gift givers out there, here are a few tried and true little gifts that will be sure to bring a smile to their faces:
- Hand held mirror so parents can see baby’s face when they are holding in skin-to-skin
- NICU MOM/DAD or Warrior mama/daddy shirts, mugs, etc.
- Books for parents to read to baby in NICU
- NICU milestone cards to place in the crib for a picture when baby meets a milestone
- Make goodies for the staff at the hospital.
💕 BONUS Idea: I have gift cards. Purchase a gift card to my NICU parent coach services and give your friend access to my expertise and experience.
Need more ideas on how to support a friend or family member in the NICU?
Reach out to me. I’m a NICU parent coach, certified neonatal therapist, and speech-language pathologist. I would love to help! Also follow me on Instagram for insightful tips, encouraging stories and helpful resources.