Sunday, November 14, 2010

Advice to Friends and Family of NICU Parents

My guys were born at 27 weeks and spent three months in the NICU. The NICU experience is like nothing I had experienced, and is nothing I would wish on anybody. I do know, however, that premature birth happens too often. With that in mind, I compiled the following list,which I hope will help those with friends or family in the NICU. 

1.  We need you to celebrate the new life. We are grateful for your sympathy; our situation is unspeakably difficult. More than your sympathy, however, we need your joy. We have a new member of our family, one (or two or three) we have been anticipating and loving for quite some time. Although the child may be  ill and there is a possibility of our lives being touched only briefly, that child deserves all the love and joy of a lifetime. 
2.  We love that everyone is interested in the well being of our little ones and want to share all the news. It can get overwhelming, though, as friends and family call for updates. Not everyone is on email or facebook. Help devise a way to disseminate information. Offer to be the main point of contact for people wanting news or generate a phone/email tree. 
3.  We are TERRIFIED of germs. If you have a sniffle or cough, stay away. Not just from the hospital, stay away from the family as well. If we get sick, we can't visit our little ones. Wash your hands, get your flu shots, keep yourself healthy so you don't pass anything along to us. 
4.  If you're wondering what to do for a NICU parent, keep in mind that the baby probably came before we finished our to-do list. We may have cribs or swings to purchase or assemble, but we also might need our oil changed and brakes checked, our carpets cleaned, household repairs taken care of, etc. 
5.  We are exhausted and hungry and tired of fast food!  Home food delivery, a frozen casserole, or a meal "catered" by a nicer restaurant can feel like a miracle. 
6.  We don't really want to hear about your friend's cousin whose baby was born two weeks early and "turned out fine. You'd never know." every preemie is different and, believe me, we've researched our chances and know what the most likely outcomes are. We know you mean to be comforting, but it really doesn't help. 
7.  Please do not get offended or cause drama. This is not about you. It seems this should go without saying, but with emotions running high and visitation limited, often friends or family members wind up feeling hurt and rejected. When deciding who gets visitation rights, MANY factors come into play. We might consider who is likely to be able to visit the most, who might be babysitting the kids later on, who might be less exposed to germs, etc. It is not a measure of who our favorite is or who we love the most. It is an incredibly difficult decision that is only made harder if we fear we will hurt someone's feelings. Please remember that visitors are limited not just to protect the baby you know, but to protect all the babies in the NICU. Meanwhile, we are scared and exhausted and stressed and just do not have the energy or time to worry about anyone except us and our babies.
8. Preemie parents are worried about their house and air quality being clean enough to take our babies home. When going hone time approaches, offer to "spring clean" and dust or hire a maid service, or change our air filters, clean the carpets, and/or groom our pets. 
9. Offer to keep our pets for a week or so when the babies first get home. 
10. Every preemie parent is different. Some want to be surrounded by their loved ones, while others hold tight as a family unit, shunning all others. Cards, emails, grocery delivery, etc. are all ways to let the parents know you are there for them while giving them enough space to decide whether to reach out to you. 

Thank you. 


  1. GREAT list! That SO needs to be posted somewhere. . .or maybe handed out to new NICU parents. We were blessed to only be in the NICU for 8 days, but we shared many of the same feelings. I can't imagine being there for several months. I am so glad that you and your little men are doing well - they are beautiful! =)

  2. This is a great post. Thanks so much for sharing what you have learned. Every bit helps.

    And you can reach out to other parents of preemies through the March of Dimes community called Share Your Story: It's hugely supportive.

  3. This is such a great post. I remember feeling all these things when our 24-weekers were born, especially #1. For the longest time, whenever we told people that our babies were here, all we got were condolences. My husband finally said: "This is their life and we intend to celebrate it, whether they are here for 90 days or 90 years." On November 17, my twins turned 19. We have been celebrating all those years and hope to celebrate many, many more. I am sharing the journals I kept during our five-month NICU stay at Mike&Ollie: 24-weekers Who Beat the Odds. I hope your babies thrive. I celebrate with you and thank you for your wonderful post.