One of the possible outcomes of birth is the need for extra medical care for your newborn. Preterm birth, respiratory distress, infection, birth injuries, or other medical reasons are reasons a newborn may need to spend time in a hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit or NICU.
While care is needed, families can be distressed. They will be worried about their new child and may be discharged from the hospital before their baby. The time they may be able to spend with their child may be limited.
Having to leave your child at this age for any reason is heart-wrenching, but for NICU families, the pain of separation becomes a new part of their day as they wait until their baby is healthy enough to come home.
If you are a close family member, friend, or community helper and are looking for ways to help families, here are some ways to help a NICU family.
Make your offer of help as direct and specific as possible.
Many people have compassion for families who have a child in a NICU. Still, they often turn to an overused offer that unintentionally places a burden on the family. That phrase is, “Let me know how I can help.”
To a person who may not remember if they ate that day, remembering you, your offer, and then communicating a need to you are three steps that take an incredible amount of coordination and effort. To most, it is easier to keep doing everything themselves.
So if you want to be helpful, take away the burden of thinking of a way you can help. Instead of a blank offering, suggest something specific, and ask if it is ok.
“I’d like to come by the hospital and bring you lunch at about 12:30. Does that work for you?”
“We would like to swing by to mow your lawn and take out your garbage bins tomorrow. Are you ok with us taking care of that?”
“I have your favorite soup and a loaf of crusty bread to bring by for dinner. What time will you be home so I can stop by, hug you, and refresh your tissue boxes?”
“Let me pick you up from the hospital and bring you home today. Then, if it’s alright with you, I’ll get some food ready while you hop in the shower.”
“I’m going grocery shopping tomorrow, and I’d love to pick up some things for you and drop them by. Is there anything specific that sounds good to you, or can go off what I know you like?”
Remember, they can always say no, but by showing them you are willing to do it, all they need is a few details about when you are showing up in a real and meaningful way.
If you do not live in the same city, but still want to show up for a friend in a meaningful way, here are some things you can send that are helpful:
- Have a large box of soft tissues delivered
- Gas cards
- Parking passes or vouchers at the hospital
- A gift card to the closest coffee shop to their home or hospital
- A new cozy wrap sweater or robe they can wear while holding their baby (if they are old enough to hold) helps them stay covered and warm during skin-to-skin.
- Send affirmations and encouraging messages to their phone, even if they don’t respond. Even a message saying, “I’m thinking about you and baby and hope your time together is magical today.”
- Hire a dog-walking service, or time at a pet day-care if they have dogs.
- Be a person who will listen if they need to unload. Refrain from saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” Or “I’m sure things will look better soon.”
- Be a person that understands this is a time full of guilt, anger, helplessness, and intense fatigue. Your friend will not be their usual self. They will not be able to offer you anything, so be aware enough not to ask or need support from them. Vent your troubles elsewhere.