I recently completed an unforgettable journey with a good friend. Although contained within the four walls of a hospital, the peaks and valleys were as memory-making as the greatest of trips. 

This particular journey consisted of a three week NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) stay, where I was privileged to witness the growing of twin boys. While I learned all about the world of preemie development, some of my greatest lessons were found within the context of friendship (and how to help a friend in need).

A NICU stay is the perfect time to rally the troops and begin blessing parents. Are you unsure how to help? Check out these ideas about how to be a point person, provider, source of strength, and an anchor of reality for a NICU parent.

Be a Point Person

While it may seem that a NICU parent has some spare time on her hands, it becomes exhausting to constantly field well-meaning messages and respond to inquiries.

Consider being a primary contact for well-wishers. Sharing updates about baby’s development, coordinating meals, and setting up visitation schedules are some of the tasks you could take care of. As a point person, you’re invaluable to shoulder the weight of communication so NICU parents can focus on their little one.

This role may be helpful even after baby comes home. Consider working with the family to set up a schedule for visitors. You can also play an active role in helping to stop the spread of germs by gifting these downloadable signs for baby’s home.

Be a Provider

When you think of supporting the NICU parent, the first thing that likely comes to mind entails food.

Providing bare essentials and necessities is a major part of supporting the NICU parent. Consider gathering some of the following items as you’re searching for items to gift:
● Clothing (for baby and mom)
● Granola Bars
● Gift Cards to restaurants near the hospital
● Laundry Detergent (or offer to launder dirty clothing)
● Shelf-Stable Soups/Meals
● Shower Supplies
● Treats (Chocolate, Nuts, Something Sweet)

The best way to be a provider is to step in and start doing. Don’t wait to be asked: bring essentials you think will be helpful and complete everyday tasks before needs multiply.

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.

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Jess Wartinger

Jess Wartinger resides in rural New York with her husband and five children. Formerly an early elementary teacher, Jess currently spends her time loving her kids and holding down the fort at home.


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