More often than not, families do not have time to plan for a premature birth. They find themselves going from a perfect birth plan to a frantic delivery. Families find themselves spending hours a day in the NICU with their child and many of the day to day events in life become difficult to keep up with.
If you are in the NICU or you know someone who is, here are some ways friends, family, and neighbors can help:
– Meals. For the first several weeks after our boys were born, our co-workers set up a meal rotation every other day. Because it was just my husband and myself, we had plenty of food for leftovers on the days meals were not delivered. We didn’t always know when we would be home, and if we were home, we often didn’t have the energy to talk so we left a cooler by the front door. Those delivering the meal would place it in the cooler by a certain time each day in dishes that I did not have to worry about returning.
– Gift cards. Gift cards were some of the most flexible gifts. Gas gift cards, restaurant gift cards, generic gift cards that could be used anywhere, grocery gift cards. We were able to use anything in any denomination. They lasted for months. Having a child in the NICU is expensive and these gifts helped ease the expenses of gas and meals when traveling to and from the hospital each day.
– Take out the garbage, collect mail, help with yard work. These are tasks that take time. If the family is away for weeks at a time because their baby is in a NICU far from home, these are tasks that families would greatly appreciate help with around their home.
– Run errands. If you are headed to the grocery store, ask the family if you can pick up any groceries and drop them by their home. Offer to drop off and pick up dry cleaning. Ask if they needed anything delivered to the post office. These small tasks become quite difficult to do when the family is solely focused on spending time in the NICU.
– Put together a snack basket for their car. Put together a basket of healthy snacks and water that the family can keep in the car at all times (granola bars, energy bars, almonds – items that won’t melt). We found ourselves on the road a lot and having snacks and water was a huge help. We could grab a snack in the car and didn’t have to spend time in a drive thru eating something that may or may not be healthy.
– Pay for a cleaning service or offer to clean their house or help with laundry. When we were in the NICU, these were the tasks that fell by the wayside. Laundry was clean but never folded. Cleaning became minimal at best. When family came over, they always did something to help around our house – it was greatly appreciated.
– Help with pets. When families are spending hours a day at the hospital or weeks away at a time, helping with pets is a tremendous help. Walking the dog, playing with a cat – anything to help the pets not feel left out.
– Older children. If the family has older children, offer to keep them so the parents can visit the NICU at the same time. Take the older children to the park or to a movie. Offer to drive them to and from school. Prepare the child’s favorite meal when bringing a meal to the family. Send the older children a gift in the mail.
Having a child in the NICU is stressful. Helping a family, no matter how large or small it may seem, will mean more to them than you will ever know.
What other ways have you helped a family in the NICU?