How to Support a NICU Parent
Check out these four ways to actually help.
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Be a Source of Strength
The days in the NICU can become long and the journey towards getting baby home often seems insurmountable. Being a source of strength and encouragement is a major part of supporting the NICU parent. Listen attentively, take in all there is, and have a consistent reassuring presence.
On the hard days, you’ll be able to help remember together how far you’ve traveled on the NICU path. On the easier ones, you can plan and dream for baby’s homecoming.
Understand that there are many time constraints on a NICU parent. Feedings, pumping, and scheduled time to hold baby are first priority. These things will also affect visits from others and parents’ ability to leave the hospital.
Yet, there is time to be insistent. If you sense a NICU parent is just needing a break, offer to make a quick run for coffee together. Sometimes leaving those four walls can put life into perspective and give energy for the next steps.
Be an Anchor of Reality
So much of the NICU journey involves emotions. Hopes, fears, and anxieties all get wrapped up into this experience.
Having an anchor of reality is essential for NICU parents. A reminder that these moments are temporary, that life outside of the hospital still happens, and that they will be returning to (a new version of) normal.
Bringing a bit of home to the hospital can help to anchor the NICU parent. A family photo, good book, or favorite food can help life to feel more normal. Consider setting up video chats with relatives and siblings so whole families can be together.
Supporting NICU parents is more about meeting their needs than the baby’s. Lavishing physical gifts, being a source of strength, and providing emotional support are what the NICU parent needs in order to focus on her new baby.
Be wary of expecting privileges in return for your support. Holding, feeding, and even diapering babies in the NICU are at the discretion of the doctors and parents. While you may have a wealth of baby experiences, preemies need special care and aren’t just small newborns.
Remember, you don’t have to fill all roles. Find your niche, look for ways to help, and be ready to step right into this great journey.