How to support a NICU parent, from mums who have been there

You look at the clock impatiently and wait for your phone to ring. You know the baby should be here any minute or it’s already arrived, but there’s no call or text yet. Then you get the update: the baby is in the NICU, and you suddenly wonder how to support a NICU parent you know and love. Whatever you are able to do – from texting support to cooking meals or cleaning the house – any help will be appreciated.

Whether it’s your best friend, sibling, or co-worker, when your loved one has a baby in the NICU, it’s time to show up and roll up your sleeves. However, you can make life easier for them, so they can focus on their baby’s health to come home, it’s the perfect way to support a NICU parent.

Call and text to let them have their say (but respect their privacy).

Even if you can’t be there for your friend or family member in person, you can still be a safe place to decompress. Call and text to check in often.

“The NICU can be an extremely lonely place,” says Sam Atchison, a mother of three and a member of the Newborn Center advisory board at Texas Children’s Hospital. Atchison’s youngest daughter, Aurora, aka Ro, was in the Texas Children’s NICU for nearly two months. “I sat there with her for seven hours every day. They keep the lights low and it’s a calming place, but it creates a kind of time distortion. Seems like a different world so just calling to check in was really great to see how you are doing mentally.

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Some parents want to deal, while others just want privacy. If you don’t know what your loved one wants, it’s better to ask than to force.

“People want to ask questions and know the details, but give them space,” says mother-of-three Ashley Dempsey, whose daughter, Peyton, was in NICU for 10 days. “We didn’t want to talk about it. I know this comes from a place of concern and care, but respect their wishes.

Hold the fort.

Having a baby in the NICU does not mean that life is on hold. Help your loved one take care of older children, pets and household chores so they can focus on their baby.

“It was very difficult to manage life at home, two babies at home and one in the NICU,” says Erika Lamas, mother of triplets Ellie, Camila and Aria. They were treated at the NICU at Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, for 27, 29 and 65 days respectively. “My sister-in-law was watching over Ellie and Camila while I headed to NICU to be with Aria. After she left, my mother-in-law and another sister-in-law also came to help support us through this. They helped us a lot and we are eternally grateful to them.

“If they have other kids, help them out as much as you can with those older kids,” Dempsey says. “Anything that helps with home life, like caring for pets that they can’t do at the moment, is helpful. The most important thing was that my mother prepared the meals, and we had a meal train for frozen meals.

Atchison agrees, saying having help with her two older daughters is what allowed her and her husband to stay with Ro in NICU.

“My mum stayed with our two older daughters so Jared could stay with me in hospital for five days and then he came home to be with our two older daughters. We live in Texas, so everyone came out of the woodwork with, ‘What can I do to you?’ or “What can I bring?”, and people offered to drive our kids home after school. »

Prepare food or send gift cards.

Speaking of food, if you can help new parents manage mealtimes each day, they’ll definitely appreciate it. They may not have time to cook for themselves or for older children.

In fact, it also comes in handy after the baby comes home, like when Atchison’s baby girl had to have open-heart surgery at five months old to fix her heart defect.

“When Ro had heart surgery, the company I worked for came together and gave us $600 in Uber Eats gift cards, so we never paid for a meal when I was there for his surgery. “, she said.

Help them get to the NICU every day.

For families who do not live near the hospital, the simple fact of going there every day to visit their baby can have harmful consequences. This time is crucial, both for parents to bond with their baby and for them to learn how to care for them.

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Lamas and her husband drove 35 minutes each way to see their triplets, and the Atchisons’ drive was four hours round trip. Gas gift cards can help offset the cost of those long drives.

“Take a mom to the hospital if she needs it, or give her an Uber gift card,” says Atchison.

Remind them to take care of themselves too.

Being a postpartum parent is hard enough, and having a baby in the NICU adds so much heartache. Atchison says gift cards for pampering parents can also remind them to respect their needs.

Gift cards to get a massage or a pedicure, things like that seem frivolous, but I remember going away one day and getting a pedicure because I just needed a minute to myself. “, she says.

Keep showing up after baby comes home.

For many parents whose babies have spent time in the NICU, the stress doesn’t end just because their baby gets discharged. Many NICU graduates have lifelong medical needs and caring for a newborn with complex illnesses is challenging. For Lamas, understanding life with triplets was easier with support.

“Once the girls were all home, my mother and mother-in-law took turns helping out,” Lamas says. “Most importantly they helped us with the chores and the cooking so we took our time bonding with the babies and trying to figure out how to raise triplets. They also let us take naps when we looked very exhausted. I think that’s what kept us sane for the first four months of their lives.

No matter how you support a NICU relative you love, knowing you care will make a difference to them. “The first thing is to be there, whatever ability the person you love allows you to be there,” Atchison says.

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