The neonatal intensive care unit (or NICU) is a place no parent wants to find themselves. There are a variety of reasons a newborn baby may be admitted to the NICU like a heart condition, organ failure, or premature birth. The NICU can be a downright terrifying place for parents, as their baby is hooked up to machines (sometimes helping them to breathe or eat) and the constant sound of beeping alarms means if it's not their baby in distress, it's someone else's.
Every new mom needs support from her friends in the early days, but a NICU mom needs a different kind of support - and a lot of it.
10 Be At Her House After She's Discharged Without Her Baby
If there's anything worse for a mom than having her baby rushed to the NICU right after delivery, it's being discharged herself while her baby stays behind at the hospital. Most NICUs don't allow mom to stay the night at the hospital beyond what is needed for her care, so she's wheeled out of the maternity unit empty-handed (and sometimes has to pass all the other new moms who are snuggling their new babies). If she's up for it, consider being at the house when she gets home and offering her some coffee, a shoulder to cry on, or simply to sit with her in silence as she processes the emotions.
9 Offer To Watch Her Older Child While She Visits The NICU
As much as she wants her new baby and its older siblings to bond and get to know each other, the NICU isn't a great place for a toddler with a short attention span (and love of pushing every flashing button they see). Not to mention, little kids are crawling with germs, and babies in the NICU are especially at risk of infections from those germs. To help your friend, offer to bring her big kid by to see their sibling and then bring them back to your house until she's ready to come home for the night. She'll know her other baby is well taken care of while her heart feels like it's in two places at once.
8 Send Her A Meal At The Hospital
Every mom knows that in those early days of parenthood, eating a meal isn't exactly easy to come by. Instead of setting up a meal train for when the baby comes home, gather her friends to send lunch or dinner to the hospital for her.
Even better, get her a gift card to a nearby sit-down restaurant that she and her partner can go to. It will force her to leave the NICU for a little fresh air, without having to be too far away from her baby.
7 Take Care Of Administrative Tasks For Her
It's hard enough to keep up with the house and home on a regular day, let alone when you're shuffling back and forth to the hospital worried about how your baby was breathing overnight or anticipating the latest update from the doctor. If your friend's baby is in the NICU, she's likely not thinking about things like her bills, groceries, or house cleaning. So do it for her. Stock her fridge. Do a load of laundry. Hire a cleaning crew to come in and make the place spotless so she doesn't have to. She truly won't know how to thank you enough.
6 Sit With Her In The NICU If Her Partner Has To Work
The NICU is lonely and heartbreaking. It feels dark and ominous. It's hard enough to sit there with a partner who is just as much in the situation as you, but being there alone is the epitome of a broken heart. If your friend's baby is in the NICU and her partner has run out of PTO or parental leave, offer to come sit with her for a day. Offer to chat with her to keep her mind off the constant beeping or to watch Netflix on the iPad with her so she's not so bored. Having another person there makes a scary place feel a little less terrifying.
5 Ask For Updates On Her - Not Just The Baby
Chances are good that your friend is getting lots of texts asking for updates. It's normal to want to know how a new baby is doing, what kind of progress it's making, and if there is an expected "go home" date. But, just like any new mom can get lost in the shadow of her infant, a NICU mom is rarely even seen.
It's certainly okay to ask how the baby is doing, but take some time to ask mama how she is doing herself. Chances are good she's struggling because every setback her baby has in the NICU (and it will have some) she feels it to her core, and she needs someone to love on her, too.
4 Give Her Space When She Needs It
Some NICU stays are longer than others. Some are really complicated while others are straight forward. No matter what, though, it's an emotional roller coaster for everyone involved. Maybe the doctors were sure the baby would go home today, but the baby had an "episode" and now that date has been pushed back or erased all together until they know more. With all of the emotional whiplash your friend is experiencing, she may need space or go silent. Don't take it personally, just let her know you're there for her and, when she's ready, she'll come back around.
3 Stay In Touch With Her Partner
It's always important to keep an eye on your new mom friends because of the likelihood they could experience symptoms of postpartum depression. It's even more important to look out for those symptoms in NICU/preemie moms because they are 40% more likely to experience them. You can't always tell over the phone how your friend is doing, so keep in touch with her partner so that the two of you can be in it together. While you're at it, check in on them, too, because the stress of the NICU can get to anyone, not just new moms.
2 Offer To Go Snuggle The Baby When She Can't Get To The Hospital
If your friend's baby's NICU stay is a long one, chances are she won't be able to go visit every single day - and it will crush her. Whether she has to go back to work, or needs a day off for her mental health, she will feel immense guilt for leaving her baby without someone to snuggle. If you know she can't make it to the hospital one day, offer to go in her place. She will feel relief knowing her little one is getting the snuggles and attention it needs - plus you'll get some newborn snuggles (and who can say no to that?!).
1 Let Her Cry, Complain, Or Be Angry Without Judgement
The NICU is not for the faint of heart. It's essentially a physical manifestation of every mom's worst nightmare. It will drain your friend and at some point or another, she will need to break down. If she comes to you to cry about how she's feeling, complain about the way the doctors/nurses are treating her, or angry over the fact that all of this happened, listen to her and offer her compassion and validation without any judgment. Don't try to fix the situation for her, just listen and let her feel her feelings. It's the best gift you can offer her.