FOR FAMILY AND FRIENDS
- First and foremost, the most important help you can offer a family with a new baby in the NICU is your empathy and your shoulder. It's important to understand that your friend or family member is going through an extreme amount of stress; letting them know that you are there for them if they need to talk is crucial, but leave the door open. Oftentimes it's hard for families with a baby in the NICU to make the time to talk while the baby is hospitalized.
- Another thing to remember is that sometimes people need to talk about what happened months after the fact; sometimes family members and friends are frustrated to revisit the issue since it seems to be a figment of the past. It's crucial to be there for a family even years after the fact of their baby's hospitalization. The trauma they've experienced is very real, and can affect these individuals' lives for many years to come.
- One of the most painful things a friend or family member can do is to ask, say, or imply that it was somehow the parents' fault that the baby was born prematurely or sick. As one of our neonatologists put it, "if we knew what caused preterm labor, none of us, happily, would have a job". It's a bit of human nature to wonder why something horrible happens, so we often seek out answers. Be assured that parents are generally in a cloud of guilt regarding the circumstances of their child's birth, despite the fact that is not their fault. Do not impact that with questions or assumptions about the circumstances of the birth.
- NICU families will be offered help from many friends and family members, but oftentimes don't know what to ask for. It is incredibly useful to delegate tasks to friends and family members interested in helping out, and to give suggestions that would be helpful. Things that a NICU family might need are: care for their other children, gas cards, homecooked meals or gift cards for restaurants close to the hospital, parking fees, rides to the hospital for moms who had a c-section, and overall support throughout their experience.
- Offer to be the "go-to" person for the family. Oftentimes families in the NICU receive numerous telephone calls wanting updates about the baby's status. It's helpful to establish a Facebook page or a Caring Bridge blog that friends and family can check for news so the family doesn't have to update multiple people daily. This way the family can simply update one person about what's happening and all of their loved ones can hear about it.
- It's usually best to wait to purchase clothes for the baby, since the first few weeks can be precarious and sometimes preemies are too tiny, even for preemie clothes. It's helpful to give or to knit blankets and hats that can be utilized with even the tiniest of babies.