For those of you who might know someone who has a child in the NICU, here are some ways you can help from a former NICU mom.
Did you know September is NICU Awareness Month? I never imagined I would ever have a child in the NICU. It’s just not something you think about. However, at my 18 week anatomy ultrasound with my daughter, it would be something we’d prepare for over the next 21 weeks. After she was born, she spent a month in the NICU before coming home.
Even though we had almost 5 months to prepare, there was really nothing which could truly prepare us to have our daughter stay in the hospital for the first month of her life. However, after saying that, there are definitely things you can do to try and prepare or help someone going through this difficult experience.
- Prepare Meals and Snack Bags – Eating all of your meals at the hospital can get expensive and is not always easy when trying to spend time with your child. We would pack most our meals and having a stockpile of freezer meals was a lifesaver. Should our NICU stay have been unexpected, we might not have had this. Make your friends a meal they can microwave at the hospital or snack bags (think granola bars, crackers, water bottles) they can have on hand when a snack craving hits, but they don’t want to wander too far away from the baby’s room.
- Send Meal Time Essentials – If you’re bringing dinner to the new parents, include plates, utensils and napkins too. Doing dishes is the last thing the tired parents want to do and this takes one more thing off of their to-do list!
- Send Comforting Words and Thoughts – I would often come home from the hospital to find a card in the mail from my mom or someone else with a “hang in there, we’re thinking of you message.” Let me tell you, spending all day sitting in a dark room by yourself, staring at your child and their monitors is draining on so many levels. You could never know how much something as simple as a 99-cent card with a heartfelt message might mean to someone.
- Stop by for Lunch – Our daughter was in the NICU during flu season, so we could only give four other people passes to come and see her. When some of my friends offered to stop by for lunch in the cafeteria, it was just what I needed. While they couldn’t see her, I could show them photos, talk about her and how she was doing and most importantly, have some time to try and take my mind off of everything.
- Offer to Babysit Other Children – Luckily, Emily was our first child so we didn’t have to worry about taking care of other children. However, this is not the case for everyone. I really couldn’t imagine what we would have done if we had other children as we spent almost every waking moment at the hospital. If someone you know has a child in the NICU, offering to help watch other children so they can spend time at the hospital would be especially helpful to them.
- Offer to Help around the House – Do they need the lawn mowed or snow shoveled? Could you help put out their trash and/or recycling and take it back in again? Do they have a pet you could watch for a day or two or take for daily walks? Think of all the things you do to keep your house running and offer to assist with one of those tasks. If you’re planning for a NICU stay, set up a lawn care service to take care of the lawn/snow removal and find a pet sitter to help with any pets.
- Give them Books or Magazines to Read – I spent about 12 hours a day at the hospital. Much of the time was holding Emily, but there were times I needed to put her down in her bed. Sitting in a dimly lit room without tv and only the beeping of monitors can make time go by very slowly. A new mom would love a magazine or book to occupy her time and try to give her something else to think about.
- Gift Cards – A stay in the NICU is expensive as I’m sure you can imagine! Gift cards are a great way to help the family with general expenses. If they have to drive far to get to the hospital, gas cards are nice and even restaurant or grocery store gift cards would give them one less expense to worry about.
If you are currently enduring a stay in the NICU, I send nothing but positive thoughts your way! Positive thoughts that you’re hanging in there and positive thoughts that you’ll get to take your child home soon!