The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is the unit in the hospital where premature babies or babies with medical complications can stay for days, weeks or even months. This often-unpredictable time for families can come with fear, disappointment and unexpected hardship. The experience of a NICU stay, no matter how short or how happy the ending, can leave parents feeling overwhelmed and anxious for their new baby. There isn’t always a happy ending though, so there can also be feelings of grief, anger and exhaustion. This isn’t usually what parents imagine when they plan for the birth of their little one, so they need all of the support they can get from loved ones. If someone you know has a baby in the NICU, consider giving them gifts that will make their life easier during this stressful time. We talked with Teresa White, RN, BSN from Baylor Scott and White Medical Center in McKinney and these are some of our favorite gift ideas for NICU parents.
1. Comfort Food
Although hospital food at our local hospitals is pretty great, changing it up can be nice too. You can offer to bring a home-cooked meal to these parents, send a food delivery service for them or even volunteer to cook for any children they might have at home. If they need a break from the hospital, see if they would like to go out for a nice dinner with you. Eating a hot meal, away from the beeping and alarms can make a world of difference for parents living at the hospital with their baby in the NICU.
2. Gift Cards
NICU stays can be financially draining, especially if parents don’t have paid time off from work. Gift cards to fast food restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores and even just VISA gift cards can help parents. You could think ahead to when the baby could be at home and get them gift cards for a house cleaning service, postpartum doula or a fun date night.
3. Diapers and Wipes
When it’s time for the baby to come home, a stockpile of different sized diapers, wipes and bigger clothes will be great to already have on hand. Be sure to ask parents what they already have and if there is a particular brand of diapers and wipes the baby needs. Help them to set their house up for baby’s homecoming and brainstorm how to make access to medical equipment they might need easier.
4. Non-Monetary Gifts
Volunteer to sit with the baby at the hospital, so parents can go home for a little while or go out on a real date. You can also stay with any children they might have at home or take them on fun outings. If you’re at their house, fold that load of towels on the couch or empty the dishwasher for them. Plan your visits to the hospital, so you know it’s a good time or a day they are up for visitors. Celebrate their baby’s wins with them and grieve their baby’s setbacks with them.
5. Nonjudgmental Support
Having a full-term baby with no medical complications brings so many emotions and worries, so you can only imagine the feelings and fears that come with a NICU stay. Meet these parents where they are in their feelings and validate them, no matter what they are feeling. Listen when they want to complain, celebrate or even just talk about anything else. Say their baby’s name and be present with them when you can. Avoid judging how they are coping or offering platitudes like “everything will work out”, “at least…” or “this is all part of a plan”. Loss is a real possibility with a lot of NICU stays and for those babies who do get to go home, the journey doesn’t always end at the hospital doors. Be supportive of parents’ grief, needs and requests. They won’t ever forget how your love and support made them feel during and after their baby’s NICU stay.
If you had a baby in the NICU, what gifts meant the most to you?