Sometimes it’s difficult to know how to help. I’m sharing 10 ways to support a NICU family. This post is sponsored by AdventHealth for Women. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
This month is prematurity awareness month. For years this month has gone by and I’ve never stopped to notice what this month signifies. Before Tristan, I never even knew what the NICU was. I was oblivious to a whole world that was the norm for some. When I became pregnant with Trevor our goal was to avoid having another preemie. We had already had two preemies and really wanted to not have a third. Throughout my entire pregnancy, my doctors did everything they could to help prevent preterm labor. I was given progesterone shots to decrease the chances of having another preemie and only allowed to do light activity.
All of that worked until I was 32 weeks. Unexpectedly, my blood pressure rose to dangerously high levels and I developed pre-eclampsia. I had to deliver Trevor early because it was the safest thing for both of us. Trevor was born 8 weeks early (you can read his birth story here) and had to go straight to the NICU once he was born.
Finding out that we would have another preemie was devastating. It wasn’t our plan. We definitely weren’t prepared for it.
But it happened.
Because Trevor was born early and I developed pre-eclampsia I spent the first 4 days of Trevor’s life in the ICU not able to leave my bed or room. I didn’t get to hold or see him for the first 4 days of his life. That was heartbreaking.
Since we had already experienced life as a NICU family before I assumed that this time around it would be easier, that the time would fly by and we’d be home in no time. We only spent 15 days in the NICU this time but it was just as hard as the first time. The not knowing of every day is excruciating. The constant beeps and noises in your baby’s room will definitely leave you at risk for developing PTSD.
In all honesty you never know what it’s like to be a part of a NICU family unless you’ve been in their shoes. Parents with babies in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) are under a lot of stress. Moms are recovering from birth, Dads are trying to be in more than one place at a time while supporting their family, and siblings are coping with the experience in ways that are hard to understand. It’s a hard journey and all these families are trying to do is survive day by day. I know that sometimes it’s difficult to know how to help so I’m sharing 10 ways to support a NICU family in hopes that I can help navigate how to support your loved ones.
10 Ways to Support a NICU Family
1. Buy them meals.
You never realize how important a meal is until you’re spending all of your time in the NICU and having a hard time pulling yourself away from your baby to eat. Sometimes NICU parents can forget that they need to take care of themselves too and buying them meals is one way you can help support them. The AdventHealth for Children NICU has an amazing service where parents can have meals delivered to their baby’s room during their visit for a small fee.
Offer to buy their meals for a day or even a few days to make sure their getting the nutrition they need. Once they’re home you can offer to buy them groceries or make them meals they can reheat quickly for dinner time.
2. Don’t trivialize their situation.
Every family’s experience is different. While you may think that you’re telling them stories of similar situations to help them it may have the opposite effect. Avoid saying things like “this is the best place for him/her” or “just be grateful he/she is alive”. The situation these families are in are emotionally draining and the last thing you would want to do is trivialize their situation by saying these things.
3. Help keep their other kids occupied.
Being in the NICU is no fun for siblings. They love visiting their baby siblings but the joy in the visits only last for a short period of time every day. There really aren’t loads of fun things to do in any hospital that can keep kids busy for hours.
One of the biggest things that helped us during both NICU stays were the friends and family members who helped us with Tatiana. Trying to maintain a sense of normalcy for your children when you have a baby in the NICU is super important. They want to still feel loved too. Having friends and family members that can take your children to the movies, play dates in the park, or even just be with them at home so they are in an environment they’re completely comfortable in can make a world of difference during your stay.
4. Hire a housekeeper.
Parents spend hours every day in the NICU which leaves little to no time for household chores like cleaning and doing laundry. Hiring a housekeeper or even pitching in yourself to help with their household tasks is a great way to show your support and relieve some stress.
5. Respect their wishes.
NICU babies are fragile just like all babies but most parents have an added level of protection they like to adhere to when it comes to their babies. For us, we were those parents who had tons of rules. Germs were just something that we weren’t willing to expose our children to if we could help it. We didn’t allow anyone to visit the NICU without my husband or I present. Everyone had to wash their hands before touching Trevor. Kissing was a big no for us. No one was allowed to kiss Trevor but my husband and I.
Some of our rules were really hard concepts for our loved ones to grasp. It was honestly probably one of the biggest obstacles we had to overcome during our NICU journey. No one understood why we had the rules we did. If your loved ones have certain rules, respect them.
6. Check in frequently.
Being in the NICU can get lonely. Check in from time to time whether it’s a simple text or a phone call.
7. Make them a care package.
Care packages mean so much. You can personalize them with things you know your loved ones will enjoy. Think of adding protein-packed snacks, journals to keep notes, lotion, a water bottle, and books. You can even add gift cards for things like gas and food.
8. Be a listening ear.
Sometimes parents just need to vent. Be there when they need someone to talk to or a shoulder to cry on.
9. Help them prep their home for baby.
I remember it being a complete scramble once it was time to be discharged. AdventHealth for Children makes NICU discharge easy and simple which is a huge help. Prepping at home isn’t always so easy if your family is on their own. Each time we were ready to be discharged, we had to do a lot of errands buying supplies for baby because we weren’t prepared.
Offer to help your loved ones with preparing for their baby’s homecoming. Things like putting together a crib, washing the baby’s laundry, buying last minute supplies can be a huge help.
10. Follow up once they’re home.
The follow through once they’re home is often forgotten. Most assume that since the baby has been discharged they are home doing great. That’s not always the case. Adjusting to home life after being in the NICU is hard for most families. You really have to get to know your baby all over again as they’re getting to know their new home. Follow up with a call, text or even a pre-scheduled visit to check in and help out.
Understand that most NICU families won’t ask for help when they need it. These are only a few ways to support them but don’t be afraid to ask them what they really need. Take it from me when I say that being in the NICU is draining – emotionally, physically, and mentally. Be proactive and offer help before they ask. It can help take away some of the stress during their stay.
What we Loved About the AdventHealth for Children NICU
This was our second NICU stay but our first time at AdventHealth for Children. Since I delivered at The Baby Place at AdventHealth for Women Orlando, it was an easy transition for Trevor to make it to the third floor NICU. This NICU stay was way different compared to our last at another area hospital. We were more comfortable at AdventHealth for Children, and although we weren’t prepared for NICU life once again, we were at ease knowing that we had access to a Level III NICU.
A Level III NICU is the highest level there is meaning that the NICU is equipped to handle babies at any gestation with any conditions. The AdventHealth for Children NICU has 4 locations in the Orlando area – Altamonte Springs, Winter Park, Orlando and Celebration. All of the locations except for the Orlando location are Level 2 NICUs. The good thing about having so many NICU locations in the area is that your baby can easily be transferred to the Level III NICU at AdventHealth for Children in Orlando if needed.
Although we weren’t expecting Trevor to be born with any anomalies we learned after Tristan that he could surprise us with anything.
We stayed in the NICU for 15 days with Trevor. While it was nothing compared to our previous 6 month stay, we had everything we needed. Our room was a private room large enough to accommodate Trevor and our family on our daily visits. We had an oversized window with a view that allowed natural light to enter his room. This was probably one of the best physical features of the room for me. Every time that the light entered the room it was a reminder that brighter days were ahead for our family.
The parent lounge and children’s area were amazing to have access to during our stay. The lounge was always filled with snacks and refreshments for parents. The NICU even has a service where parents can have meals delivered to their baby’s room during their visit for a small fee. Having other kids while you’re in the NICU is rough for everyone. The children’s area provided a place to keep kids busy. There were toys and a TV in the room for the kids. On certain days their child life team provided sibling activities.
One of the things that I remember most about our NICU stay was how amazing Trevor’s medical team was. As soon as he was admitted, he was assigned a primary doctor. The doctor and his team made rounds every single day like clockwork to assess how he was doing. During their assessment, if my husband or I weren’t in the room we would get a call from the team updating us on his progress. Those daily phone calls were something that I looked forward to every day. There was never a time during Trevor’s stay where I felt like I wasn’t in the loop or wasn’t able to be involved with him. I was always acknowledged as his mother and my concerns were always addressed. When you’re in a place and it seems like you have no control over what will happen next, that acknowledgment is everything. Dr. Luciano and his team made sure that whatever questions we had during our stay were addressed.
There was so much to make families feel at home in the NICU. Whether your stay is just a few days or a couple of months, you’ll have everything at your discretion. The AdventHealth for Children NICU has the largest NICU network in the state of Florida which means they have the most number of beds throughout their Florida locations. If you’re expecting a baby that may need to be admitted, it’s worth chatting with the NICU team in advance. They can help to prepare you for what to expect and hopefully help you feel at ease knowing that you’ll be in the right place.