1. Offer to help around the house
We had a friend come over to finish a load of laundry that we had wet in our washer when Brannon was born. We had multiple friends mow our lawn for the 6 weeks he was in the NICU. It was such a weight off of our minds to not have to think about some of the mundanities of everyday life while we were devoting some much of our mental energy to learning new medical terms and conditions.
2. Bring them a box of good Kleenexes
Hospital Kleenexes are not that soft or absorbent, and as a NICU mom, I did a lot of crying! So having nice Kleenexes around was so helpful.
3. Congratulate them on their new baby, but also acknowledge that this situation isn’t what they wanted or hoped for
I had well meaning friends congratulate me on Brannon’s birth and be so happy and upbeat about it. I just wanted to scream at them that I didn’t want my baby born yet, I didn’t want him to have such a hard time at the very start of his life, I wanted him still safely inside of me. Of course I didn’t do that, because my friends were trying to be kind. Here’s what I say when I talk to someone who has just had an early baby, “Congratulations on your birth! I’m sorry that Baby has to start life with such struggles. How are you doing emotionally?”
4. Bring them a book
If you know what type of books they like, get them one or two. Winnie the Pooh is always a good one that just about everyone likes, and it’s a good read aloud, even for babies! Or bring a book of crossword puzzles of Sudoku if they like that.
5. Get them a restaurant gift card
Nursing moms can eat at the hospital and insurance pays for it, but dads need to eat, too. We spent so much money on food because I wasn’t home to cook. Tim would come straight from work to the hospital and often ate at the hospital cafeteria or got takeout. Look into a gift card for your local hospital’s cafeteria, or else get one for a nearby restaurant with a drive-through.
6. Don’t ask when Baby gets to come home
Everyone loves to talk about their children, but NICU parents get tired of answering this question! Frankly, there usually isn’t a good answer. People would ask if Brannon needed to weigh a certain amount before he could come home. It doesn’t work that way. He had a list of things he had to accomplish. He had to keep his body temperature up, eat on his own (not through a feeding tube), be off of oxygen support, and maintain a positive growth curve. All of those things use up calories, so he had to develop enough to do all of those things at once and still have extra calories to grow. He wasn’t able to do it all until he was 5 pounds 8 ounces. Our daughter, on the other hand, was born only 5 weeks early, and she was able to come home at 4 pounds 3 ounces. She was able to meet all of the requirements when she was a lot smaller because she was more developed. So do a NICU parent a favor and don’t ask when their little one is coming home!
Above all, be kind and sensitive. People process premature birth differently, so watch your friend for cues as to how she wants you to respond.