A mom holds her baby on her chest while in the NICU.
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How To Support A NICU Parent, From Moms Who’ve Been There

They need you now more than ever.

You’re anxiously watching the clock and waiting for your phone to ding. You know the baby should be here any minute, or has already arrived, but there’s no call or text yet. Then you get the update: the baby is in the NICU, and you’re suddenly wondering how to support a NICU parent you know and love. Whatever you’re able to do — from sending a supportive text message to making meals or cleaning the house — any and all help will be appreciated.

Whether it’s your best friend, sibling, or coworker, when your loved one has a baby in the NICU, it’s time to show up and roll up your sleeves. However you can make their life easier, so they can focus on getting their baby well enough to come home, is the perfect way to support a NICU parent.

Call & text to let them vent (but respect their privacy).

Even if you can’t be there for your friend or family member in person, you can still be a safe place to decompress. Call and text to check in often.

“The NICU can be an extremely lonely place,” says Sam Atchison, mother of three and a member of the Newborn Center Advisory Council at Texas Children’s Hospital. Atchison’s youngest daughter Aurora, aka Ro, was in the NICU at Texas Children’s for almost two months. “I would sit there with her for seven hours every day. They keep the lights low and it’s a calming place, but it creates kind of a time warp. It seems like a different world, so just calling to check in was really great to see how you’re doing mentally.”

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Some parents want to process, while others just want privacy. If you don’t know which your loved one wants, it’s better to ask than pry.

“People want to ask questions and know details, but give them space,” says Ashley Dempsey, mother of three, whose daughter, Peyton, was in the NICU for 10 days. “We didn’t want to talk about it. I know it came from a place of concern and caring, but respect their wishes.”

Hold down the fort.

Having a baby in the NICU doesn’t mean life gets put on hold. Help your loved one take care of older kids, pets, and household tasks so they can focus on being with their baby.

“It was very difficult to manage home life, two babies at home, and one in the NICU,” says Erika Lamas, mother of triplets Ellie, Camila, and Aria. They were treated in the NICU at Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, for 27, 29, and 65 days respectively. “My sister-in-law would watch Ellie and Camila while I would head over to the NICU to be with Aria. After she left, my mother-in-law and other sister-in-law came to also help support us throughout this time. They helped us out so much and we are forever grateful to them.”

“If they have other children, help with those older kids as much as you can,” says Dempsey. “Anything to help with home life, like taking care of pets they can’t at the moment, is helpful. The biggest thing was my mom making meals, and we had a meal train for freezer meals.”

Atchison agrees, saying that having help with her two older girls is what allowed her and her husband to stay with Ro in the NICU.

“My mom stayed with our two older girls so Jared could stay with me at the hospital for five days, and then he came home to be with our older two. We live in Texas so everyone came out of the woodwork with, ‘What can I make you?’ or ‘What can I bring?’, and people offered to bring our kids home from school.”

Make food or send gift cards.

Speaking of food, if you can help the new parents handle meal times each day, they’ll certainly appreciate it. They may not have time to cook for themselves or older children.

In fact, it’s helpful after the baby gets home, too, like when Atchison’s baby girl had to have open heart surgery at five months old to repair her heart defect.

“When Ro had heart surgery, the company I worked for came together and got us $600 worth of Uber Eats gift cards, so we never paid for a meal when I was there for her surgery,” she said.

Help them get to the NICU each day.

For families who don’t live near the hospital, just getting there every day to visit their baby can take its toll. That time is crucial, both so parents can bond with their baby and so they can learn how to care for them.

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Lamas and her husband drove 35 minutes each way to see their triplets, and the Atchisons’ commute was four hours roundtrip. Gas gift cards can help offset the cost of these long drives.

“Give a mom a ride to the hospital if she needs it, or give them an Uber gift card,” Atchison says.

Remind them to take care of themselves, too.

Being a postpartum parent is hard enough, and having a baby in the NICU adds so much heartache. Atchison says that gift cards for the parents to pamper themselves can remind them to honor their needs, too.

“Gift cards to get a massage or a pedicure, things like that seem frivolous but I remember leaving one day and getting a pedicure because I just needed a minute to myself,” she says.

Keep showing up after baby comes home.

For many parents with babies who spent time in the NICU, the stress doesn’t stop just because their baby gets discharged. Many NICU graduates have ongoing medical needs, and taking care of a newborn with complex conditions is hard. For Lamas, figuring out life with triplets was easier with support.

“Once the girls were all home, my mom and mother-in-law took turns flying in to help,” says Lamas. “The biggest thing was that they would help us with household duties and cooking in order for us to use up all the time to bond with the babies and try to figure out how to raise triplets. They would also let us take naps when we looked super exhausted. I think that is what kept us sane the first four months of their life.”

No matter how you support a NICU parent you love, knowing you care will make a difference to them. “The number one thing is being there in whatever capacity the person you love allows you to be there,” Atchison says.