World Prematurity Day: How to Help a Friend with a Baby in the NICU

Written by: Amanda Santoro

As we approach World Prematurity Day this Sunday, November 17th, I thought it might be helpful to try and shed some light on ways to assist a friend who is a parent with a baby or babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). In 2011, my husband and I formed the Little Giraffe Foundation to support  parents with babies in the NICU and the babies themselves, after we experienced an extended stay at the NICU ourselves.

Our twin babies were born at 25 weeks and 6 days. We lost our daughter, Cheyenne, after 6 weeks and then spent another 2 1/2 months praying our son Evan would come home soon. Thankfully, our NICU graduate is now a happy and healthy boy approaching his third birthday.  Three days after the loss of our daughter, we created the Little Giraffe Foundation to help preemies across the country. Our organization is dedicated to funding neonatal research aimed at improving quality of life, providing financial assistance to programs dedicated to supporting NICU families, and reaching NICU families at hospitals both in the Chicagoland area and nationwide with holiday gift bags filled with books and toys.

As I tell people about the Little Giraffe Foundation and our experience as NICU parents, one question I am most often asked is "How can I help a friend with a baby in the NICU?"

Here are some things you can do to help:

  • Be Understanding. It is impossible to comprehend the experience of having a child in the NICU if you have not gone through it yourself. Parents are constantly on pins and needles, even when they are told their baby could be home in a week, they know that a life-threatening setback could occur at any moment. In addition, all this is happening at the NICU, where monitors are constantly beeping and you are surrounded by babies who are facing dire conditions. As a friend, it is difficult, if not impossible to know how the parents are feeling or what can be done to make them feel better. The parents may not feel ready to celebrate the birthday and they may not want to talk about the situation at all. The entire process is emotionally draining, so the best thing a friend can do is to be available and emotionally supportive in whatever manner the parent needs at that particular time.
  • Help around the house.  Keep in mind that life does not stop while a parent's child is in the NICU. Groceries still need to be bought, dinners made, dogs walked, but any time spent doing those household tasks is time away from the NICU and away from the baby. Therefore, any help you can provide in performing everyday errands can be very beneficial for the parents, particularly if they already have a child or children to care for at home.
  • Offer to visit the hospital, but don't insist. Some parents may enjoy the company and support of another at times, but sometimes having a visitor takes time away from the bonding time needed between parent and baby.  You should offer parents books to read to their baby at the hospital and perhaps pictures to hang near the bedside if appropriate.  Offer to bring an older sibling to the hospital while the parents are at the NICU so parents can come out to visit the older child. If a NICU baby is having a particularly tough day, week, or even month, parents can end up spending most of their days and nights at the hospital and can start to feel that they are neglecting their other child(ren).

Regardless of whether you know someone with NICU babies or not, we at the Little Giraffe Foundation invite you to help support those parents and their children in any way you can this World Prematurity Day because there are few things more rewarding than helping the littlest patients grow to great heights. For more information on how you can help this holiday season, please visit their website or Facebook page.

Do you have any other suggestions on how to help families of the NICU? Comment below. 

Posted on November 14, 2013 at 2:35 PM