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After a good 10 weeks with our son in the NICU, I’d like to consider myself a pro. We know how everything works, we’ve watched dozens of babies come and go and we’ve accustomed ourselves to somewhat of a routine.

If you have a friend of family member who, unfortunately, has a baby who ends up in the NICU it can be hard to figure out what to do or say if you’ve never been there. We had so much support from family and friends who loved us and sent us their well wishes, but unless you’ve got NICU experience yourself, it’s hard to know what helps. I thought I’d get together an honest list of the most helpful items for parents who have a baby in the NICU.

Coffee

Any parent is going to have sleepless nights, but the sleepless nights spent alone worrying about your baby in the NICU are a whole different story. If mom is pumping, she’s getting up every couple of hours and hooking herself up to a machine so she can make sure her baby gets the best nutrition possible. I’m not one of those people who is usually dependent on coffee, but it helped so much. I was lucky to receive several Starbucks gift cards so I didn’t have to feel guilty grabbing a coffee here and there when I needed it or wanted to treat myself.

Restaurant Gift Cards

It’s hard to find time to cook, or even eat, when your baby is in the hospital. If the hospital is far from home, it’s even harder to find something to eat. Look up what restaurants are close to the hospital and give them a couple of gift cards. On the occasion that they are able to take a moment to breathe and find a bite to eat they’ll be thankful for the gift card!

Gas Gift Cards

It doesn’t matter if the hospital is 5 miles away or 45 miles away (we’re part of the latter group), parents with babies in the NICU are going to spend a lot of time and money driving back and forth between home and the hospital. Being able to fill our tank up with gas with a gift card has been such a help to us!

Healthy Snacks

Just like I mentioned when I talked about restaurant gift cards, having a baby in the NICU is busy and stressful. Put together a basket of healthy, portable snacks for mom and/or dad to keep with them for some energy and to tame their growling belly. There were days I didn’t eat until 3pm because I was too busy pumping and running to the NICU to visit my son. Having snacks around really helps when you’re not thinking about eating.

Robe/Kangaroo Care Top

Skin to skin, also called kangaroo care, is such an important part of having a baby in the NICU. There are a ton of benefits of holding your baby skin to skin from helping baby regulate their heart rate, breathing or temperature to creating a bond between baby and parent. At our hospital they have baby blankets or even labor and delivery robes that you can use, but my mom got me a soft robe that I started bringing with me to the NICU every day for skin to skin time. It keeps you covered and comfortable, but allows baby to feel his or her skin against mom/dad. There are also special Kangaroo Care tops.

Children’s Books

Because NICU babies are so fragile most parents are limited in their interaction. One way we love to feel like we’re bonding and spending time with our son is to read to him. Sure, he doesn’t understand what we’re saying, but he can hear our voices and it gives us something to do that we feel is beneficial to him. The two we have are collections of stories so we only need to keep track of two books and have several stories to choose from. Our favorites: Frog and Toad Treasury and Disney Read to Me Classics Treasury

Breastmilk Storage Bags

NICU moms who are pumping will likely need to store their milk somehow. Many hospitals will provide moms with bottles to bring their milk to the hospital, but if mom wants to start saving any milk at home, storage bags are a must. A few weeks in the hospital told us that his freezer space was full so we started filling up bags and taking them home to our own freezer to store for later. In the last two months I believe we’ve gone through over 300 bags! These can get a little expensive when you’re buying them regularly and I would have loved them as a gift. Favorites: Lansinoh and Up & Up (Target brand)

A Journal

When your baby is in the NICU and you’ve visiting everyday, keeping track of progress can be hard to do unless you write it down. I wish I had done it sooner, but about a week into our son’s stay in the NICU I ran and bought a journal so that I could keep track of his weight, different changes, medications, his nurses and how he did that day. It’s great to be able to look back and reference things as you go along. A nice journal and maybe even a nice pen would be a great gift for a NICU parent. Mine: Miquelrius Stone Paper Notebook (tear and water resistant!)

Time

More often than not you don’t have to buy anything to help out the NICU parents in your life. Whether you can offer your time to babysit their other kids so they can go see their baby together or you bring over a few remade meals to save them time, try to think of things that will help them either save time or make their lives a bit easier. For us, my sister spent weeks pet sitting so that we could live closer to the hospital without worrying about our pets or spending thousands of dollars boarding them. I can’t even begin to express how helpful that was to us.

Cash

I know not everyone will agree with this, so if this isn’t for you then feel free to skip it. But honestly, one of the most helpful gifts we got were donations from friends and family. Even with insurance NICU stays are expensive and it’s not even just expensive medical bills, but many of the items listed above like spending more on gas or eating out, taking time off and having a temporarily lower income, etc. I honestly don’t know what we would have done without the financial help of friends and family. It lifted such a heavy a weight off our shoulders so we could focus on our son instead of how we were going to make sure we had enough money to cover all the unexpected expenses. My sister started us a GoFundMe fundraiser that was very successful and we were beyond thankful at how much it helped. Maybe the NICU parents in your life would appreciate one as well!

No one ever wants to see their baby, or their friend or family members baby, end up in the NICU, but there are so many things to help a NICU stay be a little more tolerable. Honestly, all some NICU parents need is a little time and space. Offer an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on and just be sensitive to their often heartbreaking and frustrating situation. What meant the most to us was the outpouring of love and support from so many people in our group of friends, family and community.

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