Supporting NICU parents: 9 practical tips for friends and family

When a baby is born prematurely or with health complications, it can be an incredibly difficult time for the whole family. As a friend or family member, you may feel helpless and unsure of how to provide support during this time. However, there are many ways you can be there for your loved ones as they navigate the challenges of having a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Here are some tips for how you can help:

1. Show up and be present, but respect boundaries

One of the most important things you can do is simply be there for your loved ones. Visiting the NICU can be overwhelming and emotional, so offer to go with your friend or family member to provide support and company. Even if you can only stay for a short time, your presence can make a big difference.

While some parents welcome the company, important to respect your loved ones' boundaries and preferences during this time. Some parents may prefer not to have visitors in the NICU. Be mindful of their needs and preferences, and let them know that you are available to help in whatever way they need.

2. Listen without judgment

Your loved one may be experiencing a wide range of emotions, from fear and anxiety to sadness and frustration. It's important to listen to their feelings without trying to offer solutions or dismiss their concerns. Let them know that you are there to support them and that their feelings are valid.

3. Offer practical help

When a family has a baby in the NICU, their daily routine is often disrupted. Offer to help with practical tasks like grocery shopping, cooking meals, doing laundry, or taking care of other children. These small acts of kindness can make a big difference in reducing stress and allowing parents to focus on their baby.

4. Educate Yourself

If you're not familiar with the NICU or premature birth, take the time to educate yourself. This can help you understand what your loved ones are going through and provide more meaningful support. You can read books or articles, watch videos, or attend informational sessions.

5. Don't forget about the partner

While the focus is often on the birthing person and baby, it's important to remember that the partner is also going through a difficult time. Offer support and a listening ear to the partner, and let them know that you care about their well-being too.

6. Be patient and flexible

Having a baby in the NICU can be unpredictable, and plans may change at a moment's notice. Be patient and flexible with your loved ones, and offer support as they navigate this uncertain time.

7. Celebrate milestones

When a baby is in the NICU, every milestone is a cause for celebration. Whether it's the baby's first bottle, a successful surgery, or a move to a less intensive care unit, take the time to celebrate these milestones with your loved ones.

8. Offer ongoing support after discharge

The challenges of having a baby in the NICU don't end when the baby is discharged from the hospital. Offer ongoing support to your loved ones as they adjust to life at home with a premature or medically fragile baby. Check in with them regularly, offer to help with household tasks, and provide emotional support as needed.

9. Pay for a NICU-competent post-partum doula

If you have the means, offer to pay for post-partum doula care from a doula specializing in care for NICU families. These professionals, like The NICU Doula, can help NICU parents with advocacy, information, bonding, kangaroo care, lactation, exclusive pumping, and other needs unique to the NICU experience.

Having a baby in the NICU is a difficult and emotional experience for the whole family. As a friend or family member, there are many ways you can support your loved ones during this challenging time.

By showing up, offering practical and emotional support, educating yourself, and being patient and flexible, you can make a big difference in the lives of your loved ones. Remember that every small act of kindness and support can help make this difficult journey a little bit easier for everyone involved.

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