When a new baby arrives it's an exciting time. Those precious new moments can be thwarted when a baby is sent to the NICU, throwing all plans out the window. It can be traumatizing, nerve wrecking and emotional. Whether it's a short stay, or a extended care, NICU parents, especially moms, need support. And sometimes they don't even know what they need. Here's some tips to help you be able to offer support to a NICU mom.
1. Send food. Whether it's a Starbucks card, a basket of snacks, or even a little cash, having some nourishment or a treat easily available makes the long days and nights manageable. Creating a meal train is better for once they are home and settled then when they are spending time back and forth from the hospital.
2. Don't ask questions. Of course, be there for her if she wants to talk. Let her know you're thinking of her at 3am (she's probably up). But asking questions when a parent is navigating a NICU experience can make things much more stressful of them. They may not have the answers yet, or just not be ready to share them. So many people are concerned and curious, which is wonderful, but it can be a full time job trying to manage all the questions.
3. Do her chores. When someone offered to mow our lawn during our NICU experience, I cried. It was one chore I totally forgot about and it's hard to know exactly what you need when people are saying "let me know how to help". Having someone pin point a specific need and do it meant the world to us. Mowing the lawn, checking on the house, doing the dishes, sweeping the floor, walking the dog - it doesn't have to be big, but it makes a big difference. She probably won't have the energy to do them anyway.
4. Support how she's feeding her baby. If she is pumping milk, get storage bags and extra pump parts for her. Most stores carry the major brands now. Get her an easy refillable water bottle and freezer bags or a insulated tote. All of these she needs for giving her milk to the baby. If the baby is, or will be on formula, get the kind they think they will be using for them. Get them extra bottles and spit cloths for them when they will be home. Having a stockpile is so important once you're home from the NICU. Whatever she decides for her baby, support it. It may not be what you decided, but you're not in her shoes.
5. Remember to protect their space but also be available to talk. NICU is scary. There are a lot of emotions involved with an experience there. You'll meet the baby eventually. For now, this is their time to process and let their village support them in the way they need. Don't offer advice unless asked. Just be the listening ear.
If you're looking for a way to help our local NICU moms, come to our event tomorrow at Riverside Midwifery where we will be creating NICU Notebooks to be put in care packages for the amazing NICU moms in our community.