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How To Help Friends With A Baby In The NICU

My oldest daughter Madeline spent ten weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit after she was born almost twelve weeks premature. We had a huge support group that helped us during that time, but many of the families around us didn’t. My husband and I kept these families in mind when we started a non-profit organization in memory of our daughter. Friends of Maddie offers support to families with babies in the NICU.

I get dozens of emails every month from people asking what they can do to help their sister/cousin/friend/coworker with a baby in the NICU. These are some of the ideas I give to anyone who asks.

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  • Say Congratulations 1 of 11
    Say Congratulations
    This might seem like a no-brainer, but I can count on one hand the number of people that congratulated me on becoming a new mom. A new baby is an amazing, joyous event, and should be treated as such.
  • Help With Pets 2 of 11
    Help With Pets
    Offer to take care of the pets of the NICU parents. Take them in, or go to their house and feed them, walk them, and give them some deserved attention that the parents cannot.
  • Offer To Do Household Chores 3 of 11
    Offer To Do Household Chores
    When Maddie was in the NICU, our mail and laundry piled up. It was tremendously helpful to have friends take care of those things for me - plus they dusted, vacuumed, and did all sorts of other helpful things. Offer to mow the lawn, throw out old food, and take out their trash.
  • Remember Older Siblings 4 of 11
    Remember Older Siblings
    Lots of NICU babies have older siblings that get a overshadowed by their sick baby brother or sister. Offer to take them on play dates and sleepovers, or bring them toys and coloring books to pass the hours in the waiting room. There is a wonderful non-profit, Emily's Smile Boxes, that puts together activity boxes for siblings of sick kids. It was started by the older sister of a NICU baby - she is an awesome kid.
  • Be The Spokesman 5 of 11
    Be The Spokesman
    Your friends will have tons of people wanting updates on the baby. Keeping dozens of people updated is low on the priority list of the parents, so offer to do this for them. Start an email list or a phone tree, and be in charge of disseminating information on their behalf.
  • Make Them Eat 6 of 11
    Make Them Eat
    Meet your friends for dinner in the hospital cafeteria. Better yet, BUY them dinner. BEST, BRING them dinner. Most NICU parents forget to eat. This is obviously not good, ESPECIALLY if the mom is breast feeding. If you make an appointment to eat with them, they will have to eat something.
  • Be Their Chauffeur 7 of 11
    Be Their Chauffeur
    Offer to drive the parents around. In my case, I'd just had surgery and wasn't cleared to drive. Mike often went to the NICU first thing in the morning, but I had to stay home to pump and recover. My friend Brianne would pick me up and drop me off at the hospital, and I was incredibly grateful. This can also be a good time for parents to rest - encourage them to close their eyes for the commute.
  • Stay In Contact 8 of 11
    Stay In Contact
    Let your friends know you are thinking about them all the time. Send a text, write an email, leave a voicemail. Tell the parents they don't have to respond, but you just wanted them to know they're in your thoughts. I had a friend that texted me every single day with a simple, "I'm thinking about you all," and it meant the world to me.
  • Things To Say 9 of 11
    Things To Say
    ~Ask questions. Just like you would ask a mom with a healthy baby how breast feeding & weight gain is going, ask a NICU parent how their baby is doing. Don't be afraid to ask what acronyms and medical terms mean. The parents will be happy to talk about their child.

    ~ Ask to see pictures just like you would with a healthy baby.

    ~ Check in with the dad - he is often forgotten.

    ~ Saying something is always better than saying nothing. Get over yourself and contact your friend. They will remember that you didn't.
  • Things NOT To Say 10 of 11
    Things NOT To Say
    ~ "When can I see the baby in person?" No one wants to show off their baby more than new parents. If they are comfortable bringing you into the NICU to see the baby AND the baby is healthy enough, they will practically drag you back there.

    ~ "When is the baby coming home?"As soon as the parents know, YOU will know.

    ~ "She's going to be okay." You DO NOT KNOW if the baby is going to be OK. Believe me. TRUST ME. Infections are the dirty secret of the NICU, and they can hit any baby at any time. They are MAJOR, sometimes life-threatening setbacks. Be positive without being specific.

    ~ Don't tell the parents how scared you are. THEY ARE MORE SCARED.
  • Contact Friends of Maddie 11 of 11
    Contact Friends of Maddie
    Friends of Maddie exists to support parents and families with babies in the NICU. Contact FoM and they can answer any questions you might have, and even send your friends a support pack.

If you can add any advice, please let me know in the comments.


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