Having a baby born premature or sick is an extremely scary time for a family. This post is for the support people who are needed to rally around a family after a baby has been put into the NICU.
How to Help a Friend whose Baby is in the NICU?
Have you ever visited a friend in the hospital after she had her baby? It is so much fun to go to the gift shop, pick up a cute stuffed animal and head up to the Mother Baby floor to visit and snuggle with a newborn!
But, what if your friend had suddenly gone into labor at only 28 weeks? Or, what if she had symptoms of pre-eclampsia and they had rushed her in for a c-section so that she and her baby were not lost? How would you support her during this time? What are the needs of a NICU baby’s family?
I would love to share some of the experiences that I have had with clients and friends on the best ways to support a mother who has a baby in the NICU. She will appreciate you so much when you offer any of these items listed below!
1. Give her permission to rest
Being pregnant and having a baby is exhausting work. Having a baby that has been born under traumatic circumstances and then separated from its mother is nearly devastating. For any mother who has been separated from her baby for mere minutes after birth, you know how scary it is. NICU babies have been whisked away from their mothers often very rapidly and their Mothers feel the need to stay connected in ways that leave them completely drained.
Give her permission to rest. Offer to sit with her baby and let her know you will call if there is any change. Offer to keep her other children while she naps so that she can catch up before starting all over again. Offer to drive her to the hospital so that she can mentally check-out for the few minutes (or maybe much more) that it takes to get there. Fold the mountain of laundry that she has washed, but hasn’t folded. Wash dishes or bring a meal for her family so that she doesn’t have to think about that for one day.
She will be so much more capable of handling the stress if she is resting often during this time.
2. Give her an opportunity to talk
So often after a traumatic event, a person finds themselves retelling their story over and over. This can be an amazing healing opportunity. Often, the processing of the story through speaking it is the first step to understanding how they feel about everything they just went through. It is through this telling and retelling, that missing pieces can be filled in by others who were there and the grieving process can begin.
Give her an opportunity to talk. Let her tell her story as many times as she needs to. Let her cry or shout or sob on your shoulder until she is finished. A mother who has had a baby under traumatic circumstances is often undergoing a grieving process of not having the birth experience that she dreamed of, but she can also be undergoing a type of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) type process as well. Allowing her to express her fears openly will help her begin to move forward once her baby is ready to go home. Encourage her to seek counseling if she feels any depression or overwhelming fears as these can be amplified when mixed with Post-Partum Depression.
3. Give her a reason to believe
During the dark seasons of our life, when things feel overwhelming and our circumstances seem like they will never change, it is easy to believe that there is no hope.
Give her a reason to believe. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 KJV). In the moment it is impossible to believe that things will get better. Encourage her that even though she can not see it or feel it, that there is still hope. Pray with her and for her often. Let her know that when she feels too weak to pray, that you will stand in the gap for her. Share inspirational stories, scripture, cards, and notes of love with her to keep her spirit strong during this fight. Most importantly, be a constant reminder that she is not alone.
4. Give her a chance to receive
Most people are prepared for their baby to arrive after endless showers and parties filled with gifts for the beautiful blessing that they have been expecting. It is the unexpected that they were not prepared for.
Give her a chance to receive. Endless hours in a hospital, drives back and forth between home and the hospital, older children needing babysitters so Mom and Dad can meet with the doctors, fast food, etc, etc, etc…these add up quickly. Gift cards for gas and food are a wonderful gift for parents with a baby in the NICU. A roll of quarters makes it a lot easier to grab a quick drink or snack when she really just needs to stay near her baby. Books and magazines are a great way to distract her during the time her baby is sleeping (keep the subject matter of these uplifting if possible). Remember, she has most likely given every ounce of herself away over and over again during this time. Let her know it is ok to receive a blessing herself.
Concluding thoughts on how to help a friend whose baby is in the NICU
Finally, it is so amazing to be able to stand in when a friend is going through a really tough time and to have tangible things that you can do to make their lives a little easier. Hopefully, you will be able to grab a few of the suggestions here and use them to be the light to your friend whose sweet baby is in the NICU.
Disclaimer…this is written from my own experience and should not be taken as counseling on the proper way to do anything…when in doubt, ask a medical professional for specific advice.