4 Ways You Can Help NICU Parents

August 12, 2021

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Sabrina Malik, M.D.
Donna Lee, M.D.
Having a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is stressful for parents, but there are some simple ways that friends and family can help, say Sabrina Malik, M.D., a neonatologist, and Donna Lee, M.D., a pediatric pulmonologist, at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center.

1. Offer to do skin-to-skin (kangaroo) care. Once the baby is cleared for skin-to-skin contact, the medical team recommends that babies get as much skin-to-skin contact with parents and other trusted family members as possible. “It’s great for their brain development to have that skin-to-skin,” Dr. Malik says.

2. Engage in developmentally appropriate activities. Premature babies have different developmental needs, Dr. Malik says. The Small Baby Unit the Children’s Hospital is the only NICU in the state of New Jersey to earn the disease-specific certification in prematurity by JCAHO. You can also talk to the NICU’s occupational and physical therapists to learn some techniques that you can do with the baby after getting home to help with physical and well as cognitive development.

3. Be an extra set of hands. All babies are a lot of work, but premature ones are even more so. Offer to give the parents a break so they have some time to sleep, eat, shower, run errands or spend quality time with each other, Dr. Lee says.

It’s also great to have an extra set of hands to manage some of the stuff that a premature baby goes home with, such as oxygen supplies, which come with a lot of tubing and can make simple things like giving a baby a bath or changing a diaper more challenging, she adds.

4. Provide emotional support. Parents whose baby is in the NICU are on an emotional roller coaster ride, Dr. Lee says, so be a source of emotional support for them. Give them hugs or bring them a coffee, a favorite treat or a soft blanket to wrap themselves in.

Having a premature baby can be overwhelming even after leaving the NICU, so it’s important to help parents to see the light at the end of the tunnel. “The babies will eventually get better, but you can’t rush it,” Dr. Lee says. Let the parents know you are there to support them for the entire journey. 

The material provided through Health Hub is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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