You may be a friend or a relative of someone who has just given birth to a premature or sick newborn. While each situation is different, you also have an important role to play. Showing your support and encouragement will help the new parents to cope during this uncertain and difficult time. You may not know exactly what to say or do, so we’ve listed some do's and dont's you might find useful.
What You Can Do:
- Congratulate the parents on the birth of their baby. You may like to give them a card, flowers, or a gift, as you would plan with any other birth. Remember to be sensitive in their choosing.
Some ideas may include:
- A journal for the parents to write down their experiences
- A nice hand cream for mum - dry, cracked hands are common from the constant hand washing required in a NICU
- Photo album or frame for the hospital bedside
- Small clothing or premmie outfit
- A book the parents can read to their baby
- Be there for the parents and show your continued support especially when they have been in hospital a long time. Many parents are inundated with phone calls and visits in the first couple of weeks but then these reduce as time goes on.
- You may offer to organise a birth announcement in the paper.
- Show interest in the baby, ask about their progress and admire their baby photos. Offering sincere compliments can mean a lot to parents.
- Offer a warm hug when parents are feeling sad.
- Check with the parents before visiting, the baby’s condition can change and visitors may not be welcome at all times.
- Offer to help out with other children. Parents may then be able to visit their baby and spend time together.
- Cook meals for the family to eat or keep in the freezer.
- Offer to help day to day chores around the house. You could offer to make a trip to the grocery store, clean the house, do laundry, or look after pets.
- Offer to drive parents to the hospital. Parking can be difficult and expensive and a mum who has undergone a caesarean section may not be able to drive for weeks after the birth.
- Encourage parents to talk about their experiences and listen in a non judgemental way. It's important to acknowledge how they are feeling even if you aren’t feeling the same way.
- Stay in touch regularly via phone, text or email and let the parents know that you are thinking of them.
- Offer to go with the parents to spend time with the baby. They may find the support helpful. Make sure to ask how often they would like you to be there, some parents prefer to spend time alone with their baby.
- You may be able to help by keeping family members and friends updated on the baby’s progress. Ask the parents who they would like you to contact and what information they would like to share.
- Many mums who have a premature baby miss out on having a baby shower. If you had been planning a baby shower see if you can still go ahead with the party, just before baby is due to come home from hospital may be very timely.
What Not To Do:
- Try not to compare the family’s situation or experiences with another baby. Every family’s journey is unique and some parents cope better with the NICU experience than others. Each parent will be doing their best in what is a very traumatic time in their lives.
- Parenting a premature or sick newborn is very different to that of a full term baby. The baby’s needs may be significantly different to a full term baby so it is best to try not to compare.
- Do not plan to visit the hospital or parents if you have been unwell – even something as simple as the common cold can have life threatening consequences for critically ill babies.
- If the family requests the need for privacy respect their wishes. Some parents may not be at a place to openly discuss their baby’s birth or their condition.
- It’s important to understand that while their baby is in hospital they will be doing all they can to spend time with their baby. They may not be up to attending upcoming gatherings such as birthday parties.
- Whilst in a NICU/SCN parents are living day to day hoping for the best for their baby. Be sensitive when talking about death, setbacks or future challenges and often best to wait for the parents begin to talk about it.
- Don’t let the parents travel the traumatic journey alone, show your continued support especially when they have been in hospital a long time.