If you have a friend that has recently had a preemie, here are some suggestions on things that would be helpful while the baby is in the NICU and after discharge.

What can I do to help?

When someone you care about has a premature baby it’s natural to want to help out. Often their baby came unexpectedly so the new parents may not know how to answer that question. Chances are they are feeling overwhelmed and scared. Some  NICU moms  gathered together to make this list of ideas and suggestions to give you direction.

 Perhaps you are the new preemie mom – here are some ideas for when people ask. During this time you should be concentrating on your LO and your SO (and don’t forget yourself!). When someone wants to help, allow them. You won’t regret it!

Easy Ways to Help:   
  •  Drop off home cooked meals. Have the family leave a cooler on the porch and put food inside so they don't have to cook or entertain guests. 
  •  Prepare meals that can be kept in the freezer and used as needed
  • Walk pets, clean house, do laundry, tend to their garden/yard. 
  •  Provide rides to the hospital if mom cannot drive (after a c-section) or they rely on public transportation.
  • Sit with the family if they want company. Focus on your friend and don’t ask to hold their baby. They will offer you a turn if they feel comfortable.
  • Be the contact person so they don't have to call everyone with news/updates.
  • Pick up the following baby items: blankets, preemie/newborn clothes (no zippers or feet, these get in the way of medical equipment), hats, and socks. Also "normal" baby items like onesie month stickers that help keep NICU memories.
  • Ask about what kind of things the parents want in the NICU. Once cleared with their doctors/nurses most parents  bring in clothes and bedding, decorate the crib with pictures, leave a Boppy, or add other personal touches to their child's space.
  •   Some ideas for mom: nice water bottle, cooler bag for milk (Pack-it brand is excellent), good hand lotion, sanitizer, "to go" snacks, hands free pumping bra, nursing cover so she doesn’t have to rely on screens. Gift card for a mani, pedi or massage when Mom is ready. Haircuts are good ideas, too! We fall apart in there. Notebook/journal is great to keep track of time and events. “Mom’s One Line A Day” is a lovely gift and available on Amazon)
  • Gift cards for miscellaneous places (like Target or BRU), gas cards, a restaurant near the hospital, or parking.
  • Provide magazines to read for parents who sit in the NICU all day. 
  •  Help mom pick out clothes that are easy to kangaroo in. It’s terrible to show up to see your LO only to discover your shirt is too tight to slip LO against your skin.
  • You don’t have to be local to help! One preemie mom said she got a great care package from some friends when they were in the NICU.  It included gift cards to fast food restaurants, snacks, oatmeal (to help with milk supply), hand sanitizer wipes, playing cards, magazines, a blanket, some preemie clothes, and some little signs to decorate the NICU room.  


Things to Say and Things to NOT Say:
  • Instead of, "Oh, he's so tiny!" try "Oh, what a beautiful baby!" Preemie parents are well aware of how small their babies are but still need to hear how precious their little ones are. Compliment them on their adorable babies! Tell them how great they look in all those FB pictures. If you don’t see many give some gentle encouragement. Maybe she’s worried she’ll frighten others.
  • "So does this mean he'll have health problems later on?" Preemie parents are constantly worried about current and future health problems. No one, not even the doctors can answer questions like this so they just bring stress to an already stressful situation.
  • When a preemie mom tells you about her baby's success, rejoice with her and don't compare her baby to a full term baby even if it sounds minor to you. One mom shared that when she was bragging to her mom about how Lillian took 15mL from a bottle, her mother replied that was not much. Heartbreaking! We celebrate every gram, every mL, and every little thing. 
  • If you receive a mass email, read a public post or blog entry, or see a status, don't immediately call to talk. It doesn’t matter if the news is good or bad, that one update took a lot of emotional energy. By all means respond if you’d like, but in a non-rushed way (email, comment on the blog, or just text asking to call when I feel up to it). Feel out the situation – while preemie moms need our friends and family more than ever, it’s an emotional rollercoaster. Expect mood swings.
  • "This place is scary/creepy/etc"  The NICU is intimidating, full of noises and sights that you are probably not used to. Tune it all out or ask the parents to explain the sounds to you.
  • "What's going on with that baby over there?" In many NICUs you will be able to see other sick babies when you visit. Please respect that family's privacy but not asking about or staring at their baby. 
  • "When can I come visit you and bring my 2 germy toddlers who are sick? I really want to see the baby!"  Instead say, "I'd love to visit when you are up for it. I'll be sure to leave my kids at home and make sure my hands are washed." Preemie parents are cautious about germs for a good reason. What seems like a small cold to you could make our fragile babies very sick. This continues to be true after the baby comes home from the hospital. 
  • Don't ask when you'll get to hold the baby. Don't say "I don't feel like I am close to your baby because I didn't get to hold them." Chance are the preemie mom didn't get to hold her baby for days or even weeks. She just wants to know you love her baby. She will offer you a turn to hold the baby when she is ready.
  •  "I'm so afraid XXX will happen to your baby" OR "This is so hard for me" Whatever your fears, whatever your stress, do not share it with the preemie's parents. They have much more fear and stress than you can imagine and your fears will not comfort them.
  • Weeks later don't admit that you were worried their baby was going to have the "alien preemie look" and how glad you were they wound up looking "normal."  
  • Tell us about YOU – we want to be distracted!
  • However not all moms do. Again, tread lightly and assess her mood. One mom wrote, “Don’t assume since my baby is in the NICU that means I want to get out and have coffee and girl time. All I want to do is be with my baby. Offer to bring coffee to me, but don't think this is a great time to catch up after weeks of bedrest since I "don't have to worry about bringing the baby out." 
  • Remember that it's not just Mom going through this, it's Dad too. Please, please remember dad!  Volunteer to take on some of his "man tasks" like mowing the lawn; he’s scared and overwhelmed, too.


We hope this helps you help the preemie parents in your life! The NICU is an abyss. It’s hard. It’s tiring. It will end. It doesn’t feel like it will, but it does, and there will even have some fond memories. But during the NICU stay, preemie parents need to feel supported. Even if that means giving them space to deal with their emotions. Thank you for being the kind of friend or family member who searches for pages like this to find out the very best ways to help!

Love,

The Preemie Moms
Precious and priceless so lovable too, the world’s sweetest littlest miracle is, a baby like you.

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