Whether it’s planned or completely unexpected, when your baby is in the NICU, life just gets overwhelming. My son was rushed to Children’s Mercy by ambulance early in the morning on his third day of life. I was completely exhausted and very drugged up still from an abrupt C-section and uncontrollable nausea even after delivery. I hope that no one ever has to go through having a baby in the NICU but if you do (or have friends or family who do), here are some tips to help.
- Designate someone to field calls, texts, inquiries and people volunteering to do things for you. We are so lucky to have so many caring people in our lives but trying to communicate with all of our family, church, work and other friends was just not possible. We posted on Facebook occasionally but ran everything through my sister who coordinated messages to friends about what was happening and consolidated questions so we weren’t overwhelmed.
- It’s OK to say no to visitors. At Children’s Mercy, only two adults can be in the NICU pods at a time so visitors meant that either my husband or I had to leave our baby. For us, only our parents and older kids visited while he was there. And our friends understood.
- Take advantages of the benefits the hospital offers. Most NICUs/PICUs have lots of programs in place to help families with babies in intensive care. Children’s Mercy offered meal coupons for breastfeeding moms (3 meals a day!), lodging in the Ronald McDonald house and meals, showers, and resting rooms in the Ronald McDonald suite in the hospital.
- Ask questions over and over until you understand or get answers. The doctors and nurses are caring for your child so if you don’t understand something, ask until you do. If language is a barrier, they will find a translator to help.
- Keep a journal. I took notes every day when the doctors came by so I could relate information to my husband or ask the nurses questions later. It helped me remember things that otherwise I wouldn’t. Another mom I know turned her journal into a photo book that documented every day of her preemie daughter’s stay.
- Ask for help. Your family and friends want to help you out so don’t be afraid to tell them what you need. For me, it was food that I could take with me and quickly eat and that was filling and healthy. It was also rides to the hospital after my husband went back to work, and I still wasn’t cleared to drive.
- Send texts and call but don’t expect to get responses. We loved hearing from people and knew that everyone understood why we couldn’t get back to them right away.
- Offer to give rides or take food to the family for kids/relatives still at home or to alleviate some of the commuting the family has to help out with.
- If the mom is pumping, make nighttime care packages for her. This was one of the most amazing things my friends/co-workers did for me. I had a really hard time pumping in the middle of the night and would be simultaneously exhausted and starving so they created brown bags with a snack, a drink and a quote or website or cartoon to keep me entertained. It was amazing.
- Gift cards to restaurants near the hospital (fast food or carry out are the best) for partners, family are always appreciated.
- Don’t send flowers to the hospital – it’s just one more thing to carry/deal with and most of the time the NICU won’t even allow them back by the baby. If you want to send something try one of these ideas:
- Heating pad
- Snacks and/or caffeinated beverages
- A journal
- A book (there’s a lot of waiting in the NICU) or magazine (lighthearted is best)
- A pillow or blanket, sleep mask
- Facial cleansing cloths and lip balm
- Realize that every mom has a different NICU experience so be respectful and thoughtful towards your family member or friend.
Are you a NICU mom? What tips would you give?