Tuesday, June 23, 2009

FAQ - My Friend Just Had a Preemie; How Can I Help?

On the message board I frequent for preemie parents, we get a lot of visitors asking what they can do to help a loved one that just had a preemie. First, let me say that I think it's really sweet that these folks care enough to research what they can do to help. And let me also say there are lots of ways to help! I polled the board to get some suggestions. Here's what we collectively came up with... if you're a preemie parent, feel free to comment with suggestions and I'll add them to the list!

What You Can Bring

  • Books for Mom and Dad: "Preemies: The Essential Guide for Parents of Premature Babies" and "Preemies" by Dr. Sears seem to be the 2 favorites of preemie moms.

  • Books to read the baby are a good suggestion for parents spending many hours in the NICU.

  • Gift cards: restaurants around the hospital, gas cards (travel back and forth to the NICU can get expensive)

  • Frozen meals (mixed reviews on this, some moms said they didn't use these, some said they loved them)

  • Goody bags for long days in the NICU: magazines, snacks (especially for breast feeding/pumping moms), crossword puzzles, a journal to record NICU days.

  • Clothes for baby. Most NICUs allow preemies to wear clothes from home after they reach certain milestones. All clothes for the NICU must snap down the front to allow monitor wire access. Our NICU didn't let us put bottoms on him, just tops. Preemie size is best, but newborn size works too (its ok if the clothes are too big). Kimono style tops are great. It's a nice feeling to do something "normal" like dress your baby in something cute.

Intangible Gifts

  • Rides to and from the NICU are often needed for moms having had c-sections. I could have used someone to take me to and from my room to the NICU when I was still in the hospital (transport takes forever, although most moms aren't hospitalized as long as I was).

  • Offer to visit the NICU with your loved one, or meet them at the hospital or nearby for lunch, dinner, etc.

  • Babysitting other children or animals - this was a BIG one!

  • Grocery shopping

  • Mow the lawn/shovel snow/rake leaves

  • Cleaning the house, doing laundry, taking out the trash, doing the dishes. These seem like simple things but when you are emotionally drained, it seems like climbing a mountain. When Marino was in the NICU, my wonderful friend Sonia came to visit and helped with seemingly simple tasks like sanitizing bottles, folding baby laundry, washing toys for the baby...things I had been dreading and just couldn't seem to motivate myself to do. It was a big help.

  • If you are a decent photographer, offer to take pictures (possibly a family photo) or loan the family a digital camera if they don't have one (or buy them a disposable one).

  • Offer to update friends and family for the parents.

  • Offer to do baby shopping...lots of families say they didn't feel they had time to spend their days in the NICU and shop for baby.

  • Just remind your loved one that you care and are excited for the baby as you would be for any other baby. Send congratulatory cards, send text messages to say you are thinking of them, fawn over pictures of the baby. I was always surprised if people said it was upsetting to see pictures of Marino with all his tubes, wires and things...to me he looked like the most beautiful creature in the world!

  • Be there to listen and be positive but not to the point of downplaying what the baby/family is going through. "Oh, baby will be fine" is a nice idea, but the reality is many preemies are not "fine" their first year or two of life the way term babies are. Most have some issues, from reflux to developmental delays, to more serious complications. Don't downplay the experience or the journey...just lend an ear, support and hugs.


  1. Great job! I think this is very helpful to those looking into some insight about how to help their friends and family through was is a very difficult time!

  2. This is awesome, Sara! Now that I've read this, I see that my last email was probably no help at all! Thanks for posting this. :)

  3. some of my friends got me clothes from preemiesrus.com. our girl is on the small side so she's still in the micro/tiny size that they offer. the doctors and nurses were thrilled with the easy access they had to the wires and leads. (and they're pretty cute too.)

  4. This is great! My sister just had her second daughter at 33 weeks 2 days. Mom got home from the hospital yesterday after 6 days there but baby will be there for a while, another 6 weeks most likely. I love my sister so much and am struggling to find ways to support her. With a 4 year old daughter and a busy husband, I just want her life to be a bit easier!! Thanks again!