How to support NICU families

Your friend or family member is going through their darkest hour. You don’t know what to do. You ask “How can I help?” but they don’t give you a firm answer. So what now?

 

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The truth is, most NICU parents do not know how to answer when asked what help they need. I had never been more scared, exhausted, or guilty in my entire life. I couldn’t think about the next 5 minutes, let alone comprehend how to let other people in to our situation. Now that I have had a year to process and finally breath, I want to loop all of you in because EVERY SINGLE NICU FAMILY NEEDS HELP!

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The best way to support a NICU family is to meet their needs without requiring anything from them. Why? Because NICU parents will neglect their sleep, their health, their home, and potentially their jobs, before being able to verbalize that they are drowning. 

Ways to help if you are local:

  • Tell (don’t ask) them that you are going to *drop-off food at their doorstep, and ask for them to pick a day of the week.
    *Please be mindful to not demand a visit, most NICU families are all tapped out by the time they get to dinner. BEST OPTION: Make something that can be left at the doorstep in case they get stuck at the hospital longer than intended (which happens all the time.)
  • Bring food to the hospital and drop it off with them, if they are available. You can also look for a nurse and ask for them to bring it something into the NICU on your behalf.
  •  Offer to sit and pray with them if they are available, or just let them know you are doing a prayer walk around the hospital.
  • Take care of their lawn for them. Most NICU families are rarely ever home, so yard help is a huge burden lifted!
  • Offer to clean their house or take care of their laundry.
  • Offer to take any animals they have off their hands until their NICU experience is over.
  • Ask if you can coordinate care and organize other helpers to fill in whatever needs are not being meant. IDEAS: make lunches or snacks, offer to send out *family approved* NICU updates to extended family and friends, or finish any household projects that didn’t get done!

Ways to help from a distance:

  • If the NICU family you are supporting is commuting to the hospital, pay for a hotel nearby for a night or two to give them a break.
  • Send cards with words of encouragement and/or gift cards to nearby restaurants.
  • Send NICU approved octupus or isolette decorations.
  • Send Mom or Dad a NICU friendly baby book so they can journal about their experience.
  • Send books for them to read to their preemie/preemies. NOTE: Screen books ahead of time. Do not send books that talk about being home together, or waiting through a long pregnancy.
  • Send NICU milestone cards, because in the NICU there are no “small victories!


 

How ANYONE can help:

  • Do not demand visits. Most NICU’s have visitor restrictions that are outside of the families’ control. Sometimes even Mom and Dad cannot get back to see their own child. This is a medical facility, not your typical nursery.
  • Text specific scriptures or prayers, avoid saying “praying for you” and nothing else.
  • Give lots of grace. If your texts/phone calls go unanswered it is not personal. Some NICUS do not allow phone usage, other times families are busy meeting with doctors/specialists. You may not see or hear from your NICU family much during this season.  Be okay with that. Let them know you miss them, but do not add guilt to the situation.
  • Offer to get the Tdap and flu shot if you plan on being around any preemies. If you are not comfortable with vaccinations, that is OK, give them space until they are ready for exposure.
  • Do not ask when the baby/babies will be coming home!
  • The NICU is an absolute ROLLER COASTER. One minute a preemie is fine, and the next they are being moved to critical care. Each day is incredibly emotionally taxing. Try to just be available to listen and pray, and avoid acting shocked by bad news.

Most importantly, check your intentions before proceeding. Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the sensationalization of other people’s horrific life events. Be extra mindful of what you put on social media. Please do not help for the sake of notoriety. We are not just a situation, we are actual people. When the dust settles and you no longer seem to care, we do notice and yes it does hurt.

Genuine help is the greatest gift you can offer!

 

To read more of our NICU stories, click the links below:

Hospital life and Hypotonia: when the NICU follows you home…

Celebrating 365 days with our NICU grads!

A letter from the NICU

 

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