10 Ways to Support Preemie Parents While Their Baby is in the NICU

10 Ways to Support Preemie Parents While Their Baby is in the NICU | Mama Papa Bubba

If you’ve been around for any amount of time, you probably know that our sweet Sam was born last November when I was just 27 weeks pregnant.  After a textbook pregnancy with Miss G and an uneventful first two trimesters with Sam, it was a shock to say the very least.  Never in a million years would I have thought I’d arrive at the hospital that night and have my baby exactly an hour later.  In fact, I was quite set on not going to the hospital at all as we’d already been two nights previous and I’d been sent home after some IV fluids and a slew of tests.  {Because who wants to be that foolish woman who goes to the hospital in extreme pain thinking she’s in labour only to be hooked up to machines that show no contractions again?  Not this girl.} Needless to say, I’m so thankful my husband pushed the issue and we went when we did.  It was one of the most terrifying nights of my life and my eyes still flood with hot, stingy tears the moment I begin replaying it all in my head. I don’t think there’s anything that makes you feel more helpless or vulnerable or scared than having to depend on the expertise of others to keep your child – the baby you’ve desperately wanted for so long – alive.  My goodness.  We only realized a couple of weeks later when I felt like absolute death that my appendix had ruptured that first night we went to the hospital and that Sam’s early birth was caused by my body knowing that it was no longer a safe place to grow a baby.

I’m beyond grateful that our story turned out as it did…  We have a sweet, happy, feisty baby boy at home who is perfectly healthy and doing all of the things we’d like him to be doing at this point {and more}.  It took a good long while to get here though, and I’d be lying if I said that our house didn’t operate in survival mode for months after his arrival.  Honestly, the only way we made it through was thanks to the help of our family and friends.  Our moms took time away from their lives to come and run our house, our other family members helped in any and every way they could, and our friends were a huge source of support.  It was the true definition of ‘it takes a village’.

Since then, I’ve been asked one question as a preemie mama more than any other… ‘What can I do to support my friend who just had her baby early?’  Every situation is certainly different, but based on our experience, here are some ways to support preemie parents while their baby is in the NICU.

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1.  Send her a message and end it with, ‘No need to respond.  Just know I’m thinking of you.’  

When Sam was born, my phone and inboxes were absolutely flooded with messages of congratulations, well wishes, and offers of help.  Between having lived overseas and having shared our lives here for years, they came in from all over the world and it was so heartwarming to know that our sweet babe had people cheering him on from all around the planet.  What I didn’t expect {and so appreciated} was how many of them ended with something like, ‘No need to respond.  Just know we’re thinking of you.’  While I knew that people weren’t expecting me to respond to them given the situation, hearing it was such a relief and allowed me to focus my attention where it needed to be without feeling guilty.

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2.  Share your preemie stories.

Amongst all of the messages I received were countless stories about other people’s preemie babes and I can’t tell you how much comfort they brought us.  Late at night when we were in my hospital room or home from our final NICU visit of the day, Brad and I would exchange the stories others had shared with us – the stories of how a friend’s niece was born at 30 weeks and is now a thriving, bouncy three year old or how a family member’s brother was born at 28 weeks back in the 60s and went on to be a football player in college and became a successful business owner – they gave us hope and reassured us that our bub was going to be okay.

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3.  Gift her cafeteria, coffee shop, and parking gift cards / vouchers. 

Here’s the thing – when you have a baby in the NICU, it feels like you live at the hospital.  Even with having Miss G at home, we were back and forth to the NICU 2 to 4 times most days for months {spending several hours there each visit}, and quite honestly, if Sam had been our first, I would have woken up in the morning, gone to the hospital, and spent my entire day there.  While worrying about the money we were spending on feeding ourselves and parking while there was the last of our worries, receiving gift cards for the hospital coffee shops was such a nice treat and something that was so appreciated.  At many hospitals you can purchase monthly parking passes and cafeteria credit too, both of which would make great, very useful ‘I’m here for you’ gifts.

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4.  Deliver meals or groceries to her house.

Oh my goodness… This was such a lifesaver after the grandmas were gone and we were left to feed ourselves.  Grocery shopping and cooking proper meals are honestly the last thing on your mind when you have a baby in the NICU and a million other things on your plate, so having someone drop off a freezer meal, a bag full of lovely groceries, or some grab-and-go snacks {muffins, energy bites, bars} was an amazing treat.  We also had friends and coworkers gift us a meal service and a gift certificate for a local online grocery delivery service – soooo helpful and appreciated.

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5.  Deliver an activity to her older children.

Ugh… I can’t tell you how hard it is to have your babies under two different roofs.  Besides worrying about whether or not Sam was going to be okay in the early days, it was the absolute hardest thing about being a NICU mama.  No matter which one you’re with, you’re thinking about the other one and what they’re doing at that particular point in their daily routine.  I loved having Miss G visit the NICU with me, but it’s not realistic to have a 5 year old there very long and I truly wanted nothing more than to be able to be in two places at once, if only for a few months. One thing that made me feel better, however, was how much love our friends showered Grae with.  Simple things like dropping off a new book or a game or some other activity {like play dough, stickers, or magnetic dolls} were so appreciated and made me feel like our girl was being taken care of even when I couldn’t be the one to do it.  {This was actually something our lovely Kuwait friends did for us to… They sent Miss G a package of activity books through Amazon and she was beyond excited to receive a big sister gift ‘all the way from Kuwait’.}

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6.  Stay and play.

Being a big sibling to a NICU babe is so hard.  Your routine is thrown completely out of whack, your parents are gone a lot, you don’t get to see the baby brother or sister you’ve anxiously been awaiting nearly as much as you’d like to, among other things…  Even with both grandmas around supporting her through everything while we had to be away, it definitely took a toll on our highly sensitive and emotional girl.  That being said, one of the things she loved {and I think helped time pass more quickly while we were at the hospital} was having visitors over. Just someone new to play and read and hang out with… It meant so much and it also gave her something exciting to tell us about upon our return.

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7.  Buy her baby something preemie sized.

There are so many things I took for granted as a mama of a full-term babe and as silly as it sounds, dressing my bub in sweet little onesies and sleepers was one of them.  I don’t remember how many days it was before we got to put a onesie on Sam, but when the day finally came, it felt so good.  It seemed like such a ‘normal’ thing to do, and during a time in your life that’s anything but normal, normal feels amazing. The fact that he was able to fit into a preemie sized onesie was also a reminder that he was growing and thriving – that we were making progress. Our hospital actually had preemie-sized clothes for the NICU babes to borrow during their stay, but I loved having a special little drawer of just Sam things beside his isolette.

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8.  Set up an update group for her.

One thing I found really helpful during our time in the NICU was being able to update all of our family members at once through a whatsapp group that was created specifically for that purpose.  Because time was so limited between being at home with Miss G and being at the hospital to feed Sam, participate in rounds, and get in plenty of skin-to-skin time, sitting down at the end of each night and sending all of the grandparents, aunts, and uncles one message that updated them on the day’s events took away the stress of having to update each person individually and was a total timesaver.  I also had a similar group with a few close friends that I sent photos and updates to every few days to a week, and again, it was so much easier than trying to make sure I messaged everyone separately.

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9.  Ask her questions.

Being born premature, especially very premature like our little Sam Jam, comes with a lot of ups and downs.  There are good days and bad days and some days you take huge steps forward only to fall back that many steps and more the next day, but don’t let that stop you from asking questions about the new babe and how he’s doing.  Just like any new parent, preemie mamas and papas love to talk about their babies.

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10.  Visit the NICU! 

Once the initial health/medical issues are taken care of and baby moves into the gain and grow phase of their NICU stay, the days can become very repetitive and start to feel never-ending…  For me, that meant waking up, getting Miss G off to Kindergarten, going straight to the NICU where I’d pump and hold bubba all morning, grabbing a sandwich from the hospital cafeteria to eat in the car, picking Miss G up from school at lunch time, spending the afternoon with my big girl, making dinner, and then heading back to the NICU from about 6:30 to midnight.  Wash, rinse. repeat.  You certainly get to know your nurses and the other mamas around you, but having friends come and visit feels so good.  Beyond close family members, I had one friend ask to visit about 6 weeks in {of course at no fault of my other friends – they probably had no idea that visiting the NICU was even an option and I certainly wasn’t making tim to reach out to them at that point}.  She brought gifts, pulled up a chair, and gushed over my baby boy even though he was hooked up to a million things and it just felt so good and so normal to be able to show off my baby while chatting with someone who knew me outside of the NICU walls.

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Well, that’s it… 10 ways we thoroughly appreciated being supported during Sam’s NICU stay.   Happy World Prematurity Day!


Fellow preemie parents, if you have other ideas, please add them in the comments below – I’d love this to become a giant list and fantastic resource for all who have friends whose babies are born sooner than expected.

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3 thoughts on “10 Ways to Support Preemie Parents While Their Baby is in the NICU

  1. Oh my lord Jen, I’m so glad to know I did the right thing at the time (as you’ve mentioned a few of the things I did above) … Having had three of my friends go through the same at the same amount of weeks as you. At the time I wrote words to you, I thought I don’t “know” you but feel like I do given that you’ve shared so many amazing activities and guidance over the last few years. I felt like it was “OK” to at least share some happy stories with you for encouragement. You’ve helped me so much without knowing over the last few years. For goodness sake, you indirectly helped me wean my girl off breast milk with your amazing activities she could wake to instead of milk. She loved them and looked forward to waking from her afternoon nap! All I wanted to do was send some hope knowing how precious my friends little girls were … There’s some things that I wouldn’t have known to do as well so you’ve given a great range (as usual) for anyone going through this experience with their friends/family. One thing I will say, is I was fortunate back when my first friend was in NICU (in Perth, Australia) that I was allowed in there … Not long after that, they stopped allowing friends in there and it became a ward ONLY for the direct family. If it had been a year later, I wouldn’t have been allowed there so I feel so very privileged to have experienced it and be able to be there for my dear friend as her partner had gone to America at the time so that he could be back in time for the “proper” due date. Another thing would be worth mentioning is that if people do go to visit, they must make sure they haven’t the slightest cold, sickness OR (VERY IMPORTANT) cold sores. They bring a high risk for prem’s apparently. The other thing that’s really important … Well, in the one she was in, is NOT to look at any of the babies either side of the one you’re visiting. The nurses got quite upset with me when I looked over at one of the other babies in the same area. It was NOT the done thing apparently. Not sure if that goes for everywhere, but they really made it quite clear it was not the done thing to look at others. I felt very guilty for having done so … Thank you so much for sharing your ideas above. <3

  2. My friend brought me a gift bag with hand cream, lip balm and a notebook to write down what happened that day, my thoughts and feelings etc. It was the best gift l got. The hand cream and lip balm were desperately needed and the notebook was great for getting my feelings out, noting things the doctor said to tell my husband later and then looking back to see how far we’d come on the bad days. It’s a lovely (and emotional!) thing to look back at and to show your little one when they’re older.

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