When a baby is brought into the world and admitted into Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), it’s difficult to know what to do or say to help the new parents.
An NICU journey is extremely overwhelming and it can be difficult for parents to receive the help they need - or even ask for it.
Having been through this journey twice with babies born at 27+2 weeks and 29+6 weeks, here are our top tips to help you support your family/friends that are NICU Parents.
No matter how early the little bundle of joy has been born, send a message of congratulations to the parents welcoming their newest addition to their family. Close your congratulatory message with a heartfelt “we will be thinking of you on the journey ahead”. This will give the parents comfort knowing that you are celebrating their good news, but will also be supporting them in the difficult months to come.
Whether you are a family member, close friend or just a Facebook acquaintance you should remain respectful when it comes to getting to “see the wee man/woman”. You should never pressurise an NICU family to share images of their newborn. These early photos are for private viewing only and if the parents really want you to see them, they will share them with you. Until that time, you will just have to remain patient.
If you’re a family member, call by the house and put a wash on, vacuum the living room floor or even just open the windows to get some fresh air through the house while they are visiting their baby in the NICU. Small gestures like these give the parents more time to focus on their baby so they don’t have to worry about the house falling into a state of disarray.
If you are in a position to help with transport to and from the NICU, please do offer this help. Parents with little ones in NICU face unexpected financial strain with maternity leave commencing the day the baby is born. Paying for petrol, taxi’s, buses etc only adds to this difficulty.
With a baby in the NICU, parents will most likely only be going home to sleep and freshen up. Help out by making some healthy meals for their freezer. Parents are too focused on the wellbeing of their poorly baby that they quite often neglect their own nutritional needs. This gesture will be greatly appreciated. If you’re not quite the cook, how about gifting some food gift vouchers?
Lend a listening ear and shoulder to cry on. Be there through the tears and emotional turmoil. Let the parents blow off steam in the safe knowledge that they are not being judged. Keep them up to date with the outside world. If you can, arrange to meet for a cuppa at the hospital canteen to help keep things somewhat normal.
You might find yourself on the receiving end of some angry emotions, but it has nothing to do with you at all. NICU parents are terrified, exhausted & stressed, they have a whole range of emotions running through them and unfortunately the slightest of things can set them off. If they fly off the rail with you, it’s because they trust you and know that you are their safe zone.
If the parents have other children, offer to babysit for a few hours so that they can visit and attend to the baby in the NICU. It would be even better if you could do an overnight baby sit to allow the parents to get a decent night's sleep to recuperate.
NICU babies generally have a weakened immune system. They have spent a long time in a sterile environment being handled by medical staff and the parents only. Parents are advised by experienced staff to restrict visitors when they go home, so please do respect this. If you are asked to wash your hands and use a hand sanitiser, do it. If you have so much as a sniffle, don’t even think about visiting! Everyone is excited to see the baby but remember that until the immediate family (ie siblings, Grandparents and siblings of parents) have met the newest family member, you will have to wait. This is family time.
Parents of premature babies have received extensive training before being discharged home on how to hold their delicate baby, what angle to hold the bottle, how to change a nappy, how to check for signs of overheating, how to bathe baby - you name it, they’ve been shown in.great.detail. They probably know more than you. All you need to do is coo over the gorgeous bundle of joy and get plenty of cuddles.