10 Ways To Help A NICU Parent
The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) can be a very scary place for new parents. Dreams of having a wonderfully fully term baby in perfect health have been dashed. These dreams have been replaced by a nightmare of doctors and nurses surround their newly born, frail child yelling out all sorts medical jargon that the parents don’t understand. The following days, weeks, and even months will be full of difficult conversations with doctors and many medical scares. These parents have to leave the hospital without a baby in tow. Being a NICU parent is a completely different take on being the parent of a newborn. These parents do not get to take their little one home right away or even hold their baby for the first several days. As a friend of a NICU parent, it can be difficult to understand how to help when everyone collectively feels so helpless. Here are a few ideas that can make a NICU parent’s life easier.
Don’t Celebrate Right Away
I remember a nurse walking in after waking up from a fog of anesthesia and she said overly cheerfully “CONGRATULATIONS!”. It made me angry. My son is fighting for his life with machines breathing for him. I hadn’t even SEEN him with my own eyes yet. How on earth is this something to celebrate?! No, I felt that condolences were in order rather than congratulations.
Instead of saying “Congratulations!” or “At least he’s alive!”, try something a bit more sensitive to the event such as “I’m so glad you are okay, we are praying for your little one!” or “You are so strong, we are behind you with prayers and support 100 percent!” Leave the cheer and congratulations for the baby’s NICU graduation day!
Don’t Be Afraid
My brother was one in particular that seemed to be afraid. Afraid to ask how things were going in fear the answer wouldn’t be positive and upset me. Afraid to see his nephew hooked up to tubes, wires and a ventilator. Afraid to make too big or too little of a deal about his sudden birth. He almost felt like anything he did would be a losing battle.
I encourage friends and family members to not be afraid. The NICU parents are much more full of fear than you could possibly be. Ask questions to the parents directly, don’t let rumors inform you. Don’t be scared to insert yourself and offer a helping hand. Follow the parent’s lead. If the parent appears brave, be brave. If the parent appears concerned, show empathy.
Help Out At Home
NICU parents spend the majority of their time at the hospital. Helping out with things at home can really take some stress away from the NICU parents. Checking the mailbox, mowing the yard and running any errands necessary can allow the parents to spend more time at the hospital with their child. Have the parents list out a few things on their to-do list at home and start checking them off one by one.
Pet and Babysitting
This one can be huge. Offering to pet sit by staying at their home or taking the pet into your home can be a great help to the NICU parents. This keeps the NICU parents from sitting at the hospital thinking of their poor pet in the rain, scared with no one to love on them. This is also true for NICU siblings. These kids still need to go to school, be fed, go to and from the hospital, etc. Helping out with care for the kids can be a major game changer for NICU parents.
The gas to and from the NICU can add up quickly. Gas gift cards and fast food gift cards will be welcomed and used. NICU parents typically do not have time to cook meals at home or even work their usual full time jobs. Some NICU parents may even be staying at a facility such as Ronald McDonald House. Paying for a few nights at the Ronald McDonald House can really help out the NICU parents as well.
Text, Don’t Call
The use of cell phones is discouraged in the NICU. A quick text saying you are praying for them, asking how they are doing, and requesting updates will be easier to respond to when the NICU parent has time to think about their response. This also helps them remember who has contacted them and what has been said. A NICU parent’s mind is in a whirlwind and a month later they may not remember who was there to support them without the text message evidence. Ask more detailed questions than “how are you?”. Instead ask “Are you eating enough? Sleeping Enough? How is the pumping going? Is your baby’s treatment progressing well?”
Make A Lunch Date
A NICU parent has to eat. A lunch date at the hospital cafeteria or at a nearby restaurant will be greatly appreciated. It gets the parent away from the medial jargon while still keeping them close by for comfort. Talk about what is going on outside of the hospital too. Don’t make the entire conversation about the NICU.
Don’t Ask When The Baby Will Come Home
This is the most dreaded question a NICU parent will get. Typically the parents do not know. The doctors usually say the child’s due date is commonly when they are expected to go home. It could be a bit sooner or much much later, depending on the severity of prematurity and medical issues. Instead, ask “How is the baby doing? How much is he/she weighing today? How much is he/she eating today?”
Once the NICU is in the past, that does not mean the struggles stop. Usually, therapy and several follow up doctors appointments trail behind the nightmare that was the NICU. The worst is over, but the process has just begun. Follow up with the NICU parents, continue to ask how things are going and if they need any additional support.
Respect The Quarantine
NICU parents are told by doctors and nurses to keep their baby in quarantine for one to six months (depending on the situation). Respect the quarantine by not touching the baby and staying away when you have a cold or recently recovered from an illness. NICU parents are taught to be complete germ freaks. You will be asked to use hand sanitizer. Don’t be offended, be respectful. Do not judge a NICU parent on their helicopter parenting style. The NICU is a very scary place and a parent will do anything possible to never return.
The worst thing you can do is nothing at all. Neglecting to call, text or visit will lead the NICU parents to think that you do not care about the recent trauma they have been going through. The most effective way to help NICU parents is to pray. Let the NICU parents know you are praying and rally others to pray with you. I truly believe prayer, faith, and the best doctors and nurses around are what led my little one to his graduation day.