When I became a mom for the first time in 2019, I felt like the overwhelming words I heard from other moms a few steps ahead of me were things like “Every pregnancy is different.” and “Every baby is different.” That couldn’t be more true for me. And as I’ve stepped into the life stage where it seems like everyone I know is having a baby of their own, it’s proving even more true.
Every mom’s pregnancy is different. Every labor is different. Every delivery is different. Every postpartum experience is different. Every baby is different. Sometimes that journey between delivery and bringing a newborn home includes a stop in the NICU for parents and baby. It can be an isolating experience, especially given COVID protocols. And, as NICU moms have shared with me, it can feel like you know no one who has ever been in the NICU until you find yourself there.
While this post is hardly exhaustive, I think it will get you off to the right start with serving friends and family who are caring for babies in the NICU. It can feel lonely for them and slightly helpless for you as the one looking in, trying to decide what exactly they need. I’m hopeful that what our Real Moms share in this post will help you care well for your friends.
Ask a Real Mom: Simple and Practical Ways to Care for Moms in the NICU
This was the resounding consensus from Real NICU Moms. While they all had different stories and different reasons and seasons for their NICU stays, they all agreed that gift cards were a huge blessing and an easy way for their people to let them know they cared.
“Gas gift cards were a great idea since we spent so much time driving back and forth from the NICU.” Real Mom, Andrea G.
Setting up a GoFundMe to cover hospital bills, long term stays and anything else for the NICU family is also so encouraging.
Real Mom Erin C. says: “Our son Owen was in the hospital for 6 weeks starting when he was 2 months old. It was during COVID, which meant we couldn’t have any visitors to our hospital room and no one could stay with him overnight except us. Our church family would bring home cooked meals to the hospital for us so we didn’t have to always order out or eat hospital food. Close friends and family would even stay and eat a meal with us outside the hospital, which was so encouraging for some social interaction.”
Real Mom Abby F. says prayers and texts of encouragement were so helpful to her family during their NICU days. “It can feel so isolating to be stuck in the hospital but it helps to hear from people from the outside world even if it’s just a ‘Hey, how are you doing?’”
If you can’t show up in person, show your love and support in the myriad of ways technology has provided for us. When one of my best friends was spending time in the NICU in another state, we both downloaded (and became slightly obsessed with) the video messaging app, Marco Polo. We talked back and forth to each other every day and it was so encouraging!
In the beginning, it can be easy for a NICU family to be inundated with love and support. So remember to send texts and schedule FaceTime calls with mom and baby throughout the whole NICU stay– and even after baby gets to come home.
Caring For Their Home
It can be overwhelming for NICU moms to think of all that needs to be done at home while she’s caring for her baby.
Real Mom Erin C says: “Other people took care of our house…mowed the lawn, cleaned out the refrigerator, collected our mail, etc.”
Real Mom Abby F. says: “Our small group was also amazing and came together and paid for a month of our rent which freed us up for medical bills or whatever else we needed during such a weird time!”
Real Mom Andrea G. says: “Friends from our church came and put together the crib and helped paint and decorate the nursery.”
Real Mom Jessica C. says: “Having family/friends to watch our other kids, clean and provide meals was such a huge blessing.”
If there are other children at home, offer to support with childcare. If there are pets at home, don’t forget about them either. Offer to take the pets to your house or go over to their house and walk or feed them. Any help with yard work or mowing the lawn is a huge support to NICU parents as well.
“Hospital food gets old real quick.” says Real Mom Abby F. so having friends drop off meals or send gift cards was a huge encouragement. Consider stocking their freezer with meals to eat when they get to bring baby home. And don’t forget about snacks!
“Making sure I was eating enough while postpartum and pumping, but also not being at home was really difficult for me.” Real Mom Jessica A. said. A lot of NICU moms are pumping so making sure they get enough to eat is important. Favorite snacks and drinks go a long way when they’re getting tired of hospital offerings.
Consider gathering a few cozy necessities for moms who are in the NICU and creating a care package. Start with a nice tote bag for all the things they’ll be transporting back and forth each day and fill with some of their favorite things. Real Mom Brigitte S. suggests “house shoes or slippers for the NICU, NICU milestone cards for photos, books for mom to read and books for parents to read to baby.” A few other things to add could include travel sized toiletries like lotion, chapstick, hand sanitizer, toothpaste and a toothbrush, a journal for recording feedings, questions and milestone moments, a blanket for baby and a blanket for mom, a nice water bottle, and pictures to hang in baby’s room.
Long Term Encouragement
When the anticipated discharge day comes for NICU families, the journey has only begun. NICU moms offered a resounding need for continued encouragement and support once baby comes home.
“The hard part is not over at discharge. Lots of NICU babies come home with significant needs and get switched from human milk fortifiers to a traditional formula to beef up their calories and it’s a ROUGH transition. Plus, families are now navigating oxygen, feeding tubes, doctor’s appointments, therapy, etc.” says Real Mom Brigitte S.
“After the baby does go home, it’s almost like the newborn days start all over again because now you’re actually doing all the round-the-clock care for the first time. So even if the baby is already weeks or months old, treat the parents like they have a newborn and offer meals, help with cleaning, etc.” says Real Mom Jessica A.
Offer to set up a meal train, send over a house cleaning service or continue with childcare for other kids at home. Check out our Ask a Real Mom post on What to Bring a New Mom for more ideas on continued support of your NICU mom friends.
Support Can Make all the Difference
No matter where your journey to motherhood finds you, the support of friends and family can make all the difference. Reaching out with any encouragement reminds those who are in the throes of newborn days, parenting toddlers or navigating the NICU that they’re seen and cared for.