Having a baby in the NICU is life-altering, but it is important to remember that you are not alone. There are many resources out there that can provide support for parents and families of premature babies.
Babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) may have been born too small, too soon, or with a medical condition that requires intensive care.
Parents who have a baby in the NICU are under a lot of stress. Having a premature infant can bring out many emotions in families, so it is important to seek out resources for support and advice.
Most hospitals offer support programs for parents and families that have a little one in the NICU. These programs are staffed by support specialists and former NICU parents, who offer the support and perspective of someone who has lived through this difficult experience and know what resources to apply.
There are often hospital services - offered by hospitals like Brigham and Women's - that offer sibling support and 'parents night out' programs where parents can relax, meet, and chat with other families who are in the same situation.
Hospital staff can also provide sibling support in the form of informative children's books and coloring books to help them understand their sibling’s unexpected journey.
Hospitals with a NICU Family Support program are often able to offer families special materials as well, like keepsake booklets for their NICU baby, a guide for parenting in the NICU, and a NICU guide.
How to Support Families with an Infant in the NICU
Even with all of the support that the parents get from the hospital, loved ones of families with an infant in the NICU can offer their love and support as well.
There are many things that you can do to show your support and love! Here are some examples:
Don't wait to be asked: Instead of asking what you can do for them, offer them a few concrete ways to help (doing a load of laundry, taking care of a pet are a few examples) and then ask what would be the most helpful.
Do listen and offer your support: Let your loved one know you're there for them if they need to talk, and that you're willing to listen to them. Even if you can't offer specific help at the time, being able to talk about the myriad of emotions involved with having an infant in the NICU is helpful.
Do call and visit: Time in the hospital can be tiring and lonely, so let families know that you're there for them through it all. Even if they don't ask you to come and visit, it doesn't mean they don't want you there, so it's important to offer.
Don't stop after the first few weeks: Connect however you can, and the worst thing you can do is nothing. Even the weeks after families leave the NICU can be scary and emotional, so keep connecting and let them know you are there.
Don't forget the rest of the family: Siblings, as well as parents, experience strong emotions when their new brother or sister is in the NICU. Offer to spend time with them to help ease their stress and distract them with fun activities!
Coloring Books to Support Families
It is difficult for the whole family when a new baby is in the NICU. In addition, the baby's siblings might not understand why their new baby can't come home right away. Come Home Soon, Baby Brother! explains that the NICU is a special place that works to make baby healthy.
This coloring book is a playful and informative guide for the baby's older siblings, teaching them what they can do to be a great big brother or sister. Available in English and Spanish.
Platypus Media also offers the coloring book Rich and Creamy for Our Preemie. This warm and informative coloring book helps parents and siblings of NICU babies learn that love and support flow from many places, and it is also available in Spanish.