Our Neighbors Have a Baby in the NICU. How Should We Help?

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Dear AdviceMama,

Our neighbors' new baby is in the neonatal intensive care unit. What can my family do to help them?

Concerned Neighbor

Dear Neighbor,

When my son was born, he had a mysterious mark on his arm and was rushed to the NICU at a different hospital because the doctor believed it could be something serious. I thought 27 hours of labor delivering a 9-and-a-half pound baby was initiation enough into motherhood, but apparently motherhood had a different plan.

Ari's dad went with him in the ambulance, and all the ideas we'd had of our first few days as a family flew out the window. In my foggy post-delivery state, I didn't have the mental capacity to navigate what was next.

Friends got me to the hospital the next morning, where I glued myself to my infant, bonding with him through the holes of an incubator. Life with a baby in the NICU is a hazy blend of night and day. I had no idea what time it was, how many hours had passed, or whether I had even eaten.

I was a first time mother trying to learn how to nurse a baby I could rarely hold in my arms. After three days of IV antibiotics and around-the-clock care, Ari's cultured wound came up negative, and we were sent home.

One of the greatest gifts we received (other than our miraculous newborn, of course) was walking into our condo and discovering a friend had cleaned it from top to bottom.

Friends and family can make the difficult ordeal of having a baby in an NICU ward much easier if they keep in mind the fact that the family is in the midst of a medical and emotional crisis. All of a parent's energies are consumed with their baby's care, as well as the mother's post-delivery recovery.

If you want to offer support, offer it with no strings attached. Emphasize that you don't expect to see the new baby, or visit with the new parents, unless of course they ask.

Here are a few ideas that can help support parents with babies in the NICU:

  • Offer to deliver items from home, especially things that will offer comfort, like a favorite t-shirt or CD.
  • Arrange accommodations near the hospital for the parents, if needed, and/or visiting relatives.
  • Drop off movies and a mini DVD player, magazines or books.
  • Take down phone messages, and deliver the uplifting, encouraging ones.
  • Offer a foot rub, a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on.
  • Deliver meals from a favorite takeout restaurant, or make your famous chicken soup or lasagna.
  • When parents do come home, help make their re-entry into the "real" world easier by arranging meals or house cleaning, screening phone messages or running interference with visitors until the new parents feel ready to step out of the cocoon.
They will thank their lucky stars that they have a friend like you!

Yours in parenting support,

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.