Image by bradleyolin
By Jackie Scrivanich, Contributing Writer
Bringing a new baby into the world has its own challenges, but when you know a mom whose child is in the NICU, she is going through a whole different set of challenges. There is no rest period for her; there is no quiet bonding and skin-to-skin in a cozy bed. Instead there is this foreign sound of beeps and machines and all of these wires attached to her newborn baby. Some moms cannot breastfeed for days, and even when they do they have more challenges ahead of them than most. Other moms cannot even hold their child because they are so fragile. Still other moms lack the support needed to care for their newest little baby in the NICU and deal with their children at home. While some moms can spend every day in the NICU, other moms do not have paid maternity leave and only planned on taking a few weeks off of work. The mom who has a baby in the NICU has more challenges than are imaginable.
Worry Instead of Joy
For most moms, once they labor and bring a child into the world there is instant joy. For a mom who has a baby in the NICU, each hour can bring its own worry, especially at the beginning. Some NICU stays are short with minimal treatment needed, but other stays are rather extensive. This can be especially challenging if the mother has other children at home.
The worry a mother feels for her child when she cannot even pick that child up, when doctors cannot give her clear answers on what is wrong or how long before they can go home, when she can barely pump enough milk for her newborn, these worries overwhelm a mom.
Joy gets overcome by concern for their newborn baby. Navigating the waters of NICU life are challenging. For an outsider, it only seems like a week or two, but for a mom who has a baby in the NICU, it feels like forever. Time stands still. Her confidence is shot. Her ability to mother is seemingly taken from her as nurses do nearly everything for her child. I recall nearly jumping for joy the first time a nurse let me change my child’s diaper. Everyone always asks a new mom, “So how is it being a mom?” and the only thing I could respond with was “I wouldn’t know.”
In a world where improvements are measured by the hour, what are some things you can do to help someone in this situation?
Image by bradleyolin
Here are 5 ways to help a mom who has a baby in the NICU:
Make Her Some Meals
Some hospitals give moms the option to stay there and other, unfortunately, don’t. Either way, a mom could use some food for herself and her family. If she is staying at the hospital, make up a basket with healthy snack options and quick meals. If she is home every night, offer to prepare dinner for her family. This is a huge burden off of her during this time.
Pay for Parking or Gas
Driving to and from the NICU daily is a huge financial burden. One hospital we were at cost us $20 a day for parking. Imagine if a newborn baby had a lengthy NICU stay at that hospital. Just hand the mother money and say this is for parking and such for when you visit your baby. Otherwise she will most likely refuse your generosity.
Offer Prayers and or Your Thoughts for the Family
It is important for the mom who has a baby in the NICU to know you are thinking about her family and in particular the well-being of her child. Let her know you are thinking about and praying for the family. Knowing that she is being supported by family and friends is important.
Take Care of Her Children/Pets/Yard/Laundry
If a mom has other children, offer to take care of them. This will help immensely as both baby and mom need to be together as often as possible. This will help with milk production, baby healing more quickly, and bonding. Other things you can help with is their pets, yard, laundry, and the like. Take the dogs for a few days, go over and mow the lawn, offer to do some laundry, or anything else you can think of. Anything you can do to allow the mom to have less stress and have more time with her NICU baby is ideal.
Be a Listening Ear
Not only did her birth plan go awry by having her child end up in the NICU, but this is most likely new territory for her. Being a sounding board is so important. Do not try to fix the problem unless asked for advice, but do be a listening ear. She will need to cry, she will need to discuss her anger and her confusion, and she will need someone, other than her significant other, to listen to her. Just listen and be as empathetic as possible. Try to avoid saying trite phrases that are well-meaning but are unhelpful. Encourage her to advocate for her baby and for herself. Reminder her that she is strong enough to handle this challenge.
Many times, family and friends focus on the baby in the NICU and forget about the mom and dad who are going through it all. Being a mom who has a baby in the NICU is one of the most lonely and scary times in your life. Having all the support you can get can make all the difference.