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Understanding the NICU Journey: What Not to Say to Parents of Preemies

Feb 21, 2024

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is a place of immense hope and healing for premature and critically ill newborns. However, for parents, it can also be a source of immense anxiety, uncertainty, and the unexpected. The NICU journey, whether brief or extended, leaves a lasting impact, shaping their experiences in deeply personal ways.

When offering support to NICU families, even well-meaning comments can sometimes miss the mark, inadvertently adding to their stress. 


Phrases to Avoid

Knowing what not to say is crucial when supporting families navigating the NICU. Here’s a guide to navigating these delicate conversations with compassion and understanding, focusing on what not to say:

  • “You’re lucky you didn’t have to experience the end of pregnancy!”
    • Better alternative: “Your strength is inspiring. How are you feeling about everything today?” (Acknowledge their emotions)
  • “At least you can catch up on sleep while the baby’s in the NICU.”
    • Better alternative: “I imagine it’s tough to be away from your baby. How can I support you during this time?” (Offer practical support)
  • “He/She is so tiny!”
    • Better alternative: “They’re absolutely beautiful. What’s their name?” (Focus on positivity)
  • “When will they catch up?”
    • Better alternative: “Every baby’s journey is unique. I’m here for you through all the milestones.” (Reassure and offer ongoing support)
  • “Did you do something to cause the early birth?”
    • Better alternative: “You’re doing an incredible job. This experience shows your strength and love for your baby.” (Offer encouragement)
  • “Everything happens for a reason.”
    • Better alternative: “I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I’m here to listen, whenever you want to talk.” (Validate their feelings)
  • “Now that you’re home, everything will be fine.”
    • Better alternative: “Welcome home! How is everyone adjusting? Remember, I’m just a call away if you need anything.” (Acknowledge ongoing challenges and offer support)
  • “You’re just being paranoid about their health.”
    • Better alternative: “It’s completely natural to worry about your little one. How can I help ease some of those worries?” (Validate their concerns and offer support)
  • “They need to be exposed to germs to build immunity.”
    • Better alternative: “I understand protecting their health is your top priority. Let me know the best way to visit safely when you’re ready.” (Respect their decisions)
  • “He/She’s how old? My child was twice his size at that age.”
    • Better alternative: “Every child’s growth is unique. Your baby is doing amazing, and so are you.” (Celebrate their progress)


Offering Meaningful Support

Supporting NICU families is about offering a listening ear, a shoulder to lean on, and a helping hand without judgment or presumption.  It’s about acknowledging their strength, respecting their unique journey, and remembering that they are not alone. Your empathy, understanding, and thoughtful words can be a beacon of support in their lives.


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