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Ways to Support Someone You Know in the NICU

Mar 14, 2024

Life in the NICU can be overwhelming for parents, and for friends and family as well. You know that your loved one is going through a challenging time, and you want to step up to help. After all, while NICU hospital personnel are amazing and go above and beyond, there’s always more to do. 

If you have a loved one with a baby in the NICU, here’s how you can help lighten their load and help focus on their little one – instead of the admin of daily life.

Understand the NICU Journey

Supporting your loved one starts with learning what they’re going through. Familiarize yourself with how the NICU works, common terms and personnel, timelines, common medical problems of NICU babies, and the unique experience of your loved one. Remember too that the NICU journey doesn’t end when baby goes home. NICU babies often require special care and follow-ups with specialists in the months and years to come. 

While your loved one might share details about their journey, try not to lean too heavily on them for your own education. Explore the hospital’s online documentation and brochures, and talk to staff about what to expect. You can also browse personal NICU stories online, as well as American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) publications. You’ll get a better sense of what your friend or family member is going through, and you’ll be able to pinpoint their needs and how you can help support them. One thing to be careful about – while it’s good to be knowledgeable, don’t try to become “the authority” on a topic. Those medical professionals are there for a reason! 

Show Empathy and Understanding

Being a NICU parent is an emotionally challenging experience. No two journeys are the same, and things can change from day to day – or be drawn out over months! Your friend or family member most likely hasn’t been in this situation before, so everything is new and overwhelming. Not only are they trying to do their best for their little one, but they may also be dealing with their own birth recovery and changes to their body. 

Sometimes they may need a sounding board to vent to or to just talk through things as they work them out in their own mind. Other times they might want to be left alone – that’s fine, too! We all deal with stressors in different ways, and the fact that in the NICU things can change on a dime can mean that your loved one is constantly trying to pivot and deal. One big thing here is to be supportive and affirmative – but try to avoid slipping into toxic positivity. This could invalidate a NICU parent’s feelings or experiences and may make them avoid reaching out. You want to be a safe space for them to open up and share, so let them do the talking while you listen.  

Be Present and Available

A NICU parent’s communication might be all over the place. They might have days with downtime where they’re free to text or catch up on calls. Then there might be a week where they’re dealing with a curveball and might not get a chance to pick up their phone. 

Make sure that whatever they’re handling, you’re a consistent, reliable figure they can rely on when they need to. Pick up the phone, listen to those voice messages, respond to those texts, and show up at the hospital if your loved one is okay with that. 

You’ve got things going on in your own life as well, but try to carve out time for them – and do your best to be in the moment when they need your help. This might mean switching off your phone, putting on your Out Of Office, or letting your boss or family know that you might need to head to the hospital on short notice. 

You don’t have to make any grand gestures: sometimes all it takes is your presence in the waiting room or a comforting shoulder to lean on. 

Lend Practical Support

Emotional support is great, but practical support can really help take a load off a NICU parent’s shoulders. 

Ask specifically what you can do to help, or better yet, offer specific help, such as bringing in a cleaning service, or having meals delivered. Make sure that you’re not adding more to a NICU family’s plate by arranging something that requires them to handle logistics or be available at a certain time. 

Even a small act of kindness can make a huge difference.

Great examples of practical support include:

  • Arranging a meal delivery service such as Postmates or Meal Train
  • Having groceries or day-to-day essentials delivered
  • Purchasing gift cards for restaurants near the hospital 
  • Bringing small, thoughtful gifts for parents and baby
  • Taking kids to school or extracurricular activities
  • Handling laundry or household chores 
  • Collecting mail or packages and keeping on top of admin 
  • Making donations to support services or your loved one’s GoFundMe
  • Handling telephone calls and texts 

Respect Privacy and Boundaries

Life in the NICU can be a lot for a new parent. Sometimes there’s only so much you can handle in a day, and adding another person to the mix isn’t easy or possible. Check in on your loved one, but avoid asking prying questions – NICU journeys don’t always follow a tidy timeline, and your friend or family member might not want to share details. 

Additionally, be okay with hearing “no” when it comes to visits. Maybe they’re not comfortable with people holding or visiting their baby in the NICU or at home. Maybe they’re having a tough day, and today isn’t the right time. 

It’s hard to hear “no”, especially when you’re just trying to help. But remember that every NICU family is just doing everything they can to keep their little one safe and healthy while maintaining their own physical emotional wellbeing. It’s not just baby who’s healing: mom may also be recovering from birth and the trauma that came with it. That “no” isn’t personal, we promise!

 

Here are a few organizations can help make life easier for NICU parents.

Meal/home essentials delivery services:

 

Coordinate caring and help for your loved one:

 

Want to lend further support? Lend a hand to A Million Little Miracles and the families we’re here to support by making a contribution today!


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