A guide for friends and family of parents with a Preemie

Updated Oct 12 2015
Colorado Photography by Warren Diggles ~ Premature Baby PVHS NICU ( Neonatal Intensive Care Unit )
Photo by Warrn Diggles, used with Creative Commons license.

As reader Letisha pointed out, November is National Prematurity Awareness Month, and today is the "Fight for Preemies" day that March of Dimes observes every year. As a mama-of-a-preemie, I know firsthand that the premature birth of your child/children can be quite stressful and scary for you, and just plain confusing for your family and friends who want to celebrate the birth of your child. So, I compiled a small list of places to find preemie items, be it clothing, books, or just something that's fun.

Clothing

Clothing for preemies is exceptionally hard! Unfortunately, many clothing companies still seem to think that a child who is born early either doesn't need clothes (dressing Jasper while he was in the NICU was actually really therapeutic for us, and helped us feel like we were "doing something" for him), or that he or she can just kick it in clothes that are entirely too large for a little body. Here are a few options:

HATS. Hats are big-time in the preemie parenting world, as little babies have a harder time retaining body heat.

You know what I love the most about this hippie(ish) hat from A Hat For Every Head? It actually looks like the shape can accommodate that ever-so-cute, somewhat larger-than-average skull so many preemies are born with and carry with them for the first few years of life. Plus, the color scheme is gender neutral, and the hat itself looks fuzzy and warm.

See also: My Baby Rocks also stocks preemie-sized clothing AND gives you plenty of options — something that's not easily found when searching for preemie stuff!

Books

I'm a big time book fan — where else can you get lots of information, examples, charts, and so on that can put your mind at ease? A lot of books about premature babies are intimidating, to say the least! Dr. Sears is notoriously offbeat-endorsed, and The Premature Baby Book : Everything You Need to Know About Your Premature Baby from Birth to Age One is comforting, informative, and basically fabulous.

Another option: Dana Linden — Preemies: The Essential Guide for Parents of Premature Babies

Offline Ideas

When we had Jasper, most of our friends were on the other side of the country — they were all eager to help out, but couldn't physically be there with us during NICU visits and things like that. There are plenty of OFFLINE things you can do for your friends and their premature baby that are infinitely more valuable than anything you can buy:

  • Offer to clean their living space, water plants, cook some meals and pop them in the freezer (hospital food gets old!), and walk their dog. Depending on the condition of their child, the parents may not even be coming home for the first few days, or even weeks, and these things will still need attending to!
  • I think I always say this on lists like this, but look into a local professional photographer, or talk to the hospital staff and see if there's someone who takes photos of the families together while they're still in the NICU. You might think that this is an ultra-sad and scary time for your friends and their child/ren — it is, but it's also a beautiful one, and something they'll probably like to have documented.
  • See if insurance is covering the medical costs, and if it's not, offer to set up a fund (or do it on the sly as a surprise!) among fellow family and friends. You'd be truly stunned by how many people have to battle with insurance companies while their child is in the NICU.
  • Accept that your friends will need their space — if you're really there for them, let them know, but definitely don't offer emotional support without the intention of following through. Don't be surprised if parents of preemies retreat into each other, but also don't be surprised when they call you at three in the morning, just needing to talk.

Friends of parents/Parents of preemies: let us all know what you found to be most helpful!

  1. BLANKETS are a great gift for preemie and nicu babies because sometimes babies can't wear clothes (also finding clothes that accommodates all those wires is never fun) also you don't need to worry about sizes

    OH and disposable cameras are a good gift too because you can just leave them in your child's cubical and nurses will be usually kind enough to take pictures

  2. While our Sam was in the NICU my mother-in-law told everyone to buy us gift certificates to restaurants near the hospital. It was great because when we got hungry we didn't have to figure out what to do…we could run out to (or order delivery from!) one of place nearby and not have to worry about the cost of eating out all the time.

  3. I agree 100% with finding a photographer. It is something as a parent in the moment you are not thinking of. My son was a preemie, and I am a photographer, and I do not have 1 good photo of him from his 56 day stay in the NICU. I just wasn't thinking of it, with so many other things running through my head I just wanted to make it to the next hour. So now I volunteer with the March of Dimes at the hospital where my son was born and I do profession photo shoots for the families there. Sometimes they are apprehensive, but most realize that this is part of your childs story, something that may be scary now, but you will be proud of how strong they were later. I cry every time I give the parents the photos because I was able to give them something that they may have missed out on, like I did.

  4. I was so lucky that my parents were able to help drive me to the hospital during my son's NICU stay as the hospital was almost 2 hours away, and my husband had to go back to work. Offering transportation if possible is a great way to support parents of preemies, even if it's just offering to help pay for gas money or food.

    Also, books, music, tea, nice toiletries, would be great, as the nights I stayed in the hospital sleep over room were pretty lonely and stressful, and simple comforts like that are nice.

  5. I love these ideas, not just for preemies but NICU babies of all kinds.

    I was really taken back how few friends and family members called or asked to visit when we were in the NICU… I know they probably wanted to give us our space and wait for us to contact them, but we were in a crazy place mentally and that made it hard to specifically ask for people to be there. I kept thinking, what if something happens to my baby and nobody got to meet him?

    • TOTALLY AGREE. I mean, with us, we were all the way across the country. Sean's mom was already planning on flying to visit us when Jasper happened to be born early, so it turned a regular visit into something that was really touching, emotionally. I'm so glad she was at least there, because I totally had that thought at one point.

  6. I agree that people should ask if they can come visit. I didn't have the presence of mind to ask people to come and so only a couple of my family met my daughter. If someone wants to visit, think about bringing food for mom and dad and maybe even some clean clothes. We were in the NICU once for 4 days straight without a change of clothes because we wouldn't leave our daughter.

    But people should also not be upset if parents don't want visitors. It's scary with the tests and doctors and ups and downs and it was hard to think about anyone coming and adding to the stress.

    And the baby kimonos are great. A lot of times the baby couldn't wear clothes or wear something that could interfere with the tubes and wires. Kimonos could add warmth and not get in the way.

  7. I had an uneventful pregnancy, and our daughter's 5 week early arrival was a complete surprise to us. The crib was delivered the day before I went into labor and the nursery didn't have a single decoration on the wall. Our apartment was a mess because I was busy trying to get as many hours in as possible before I took my maternity leave, and was too exhausted to clean when I came home at night.

    In the time The Beast (our daughter's nickname since the beginning of my pregnancy) was in the in NICU, our families and friends were amazing with assisting in doing a major clean of our apartment, helping decorating her room and assembling the crib, and cooking/dropping off pre-cooked meals so that I could just take it easy and recover post-labor. My Mom also came up from Kentucky, where I'm originally from, and stayed with us in the apartment for a week after Rose was born; she, again, did just about everything in terms of cleaning and cooking. She even washed my pump parts for me (I was planning to breastfeed and was pump-dependent until the Beast arrived home.)

    That kind of support – let's just call it MANUAL LABOR – was the best because, again, it allowed us to take it easy, recover and focus on our NICU visits.

    Great article, by the way. I wish there was more offbeat support out there for NICU parents, but it rocks to know there's plently here 😉

  8. When my daughter was born 14 weeks early, I was actually lucky to have the hospital next to were I worked. My co-workers had made food for us and got us gift cards. We never stayed the night in the hospital with her, but that is because we lived less than 10 minutes away. My parents visited her every day she was in the NICU (101 days). I am still talk with some of the nurses that work there. One thing that was great while we were there was the CarePages. It let family and friends who did not live by us to be updated. Another lucky thing for us, we had a professional photographer take her picture because she was the model for the NICU March of Dime team.

  9. Great post!

    When our second daughter was a preemie (2 months early) in the NICU, they had severe limits on the amount of time we could be in with her: a few hours a day, max. (And I as the non-bio mom had to jump through lots of hoops to get in, but that's a story for another day.) Other than all the medical worrying, the worst thing about that 5 weeks before we could take her home was one of the few times we went to a friend's party to be social in-between allowed visits — and got serious "bad parent" snarkiness and looks from some of the other guests for being there when our baby was in the hospital.

    I absolutely agree with everything on your list, but would just add… your friends might want some time and space to talk about something other than the baby and the incubator. Distraction from the constant stress can be a blessed relief.

    (And because I'm a photo-happy proud mama, this is Miss E in the NICU: http://www.jeliza.net/jepblog/2007/elisabeths-baptism/ and this is her last year: http://www.jeliza.net/jepblog/2009/you-capture-friends/ You would never know she was a preemie!)

  10. I spent two weeks in the NICU when I was a wee one. My parents were farmers, so they could not be at my side all the time, and they lived nearly 40 miles from the hospital where I was staying, and as farmers, money was hard to come by. My relatives kept my mom's car full of gas for those whole two weeks so my parents never had to worry about how they were going to going to be able to see me.

  11. Our son was in the NICU for 97 days, beginning with his birth on July 2. NICU was one hour from home in another city! With hubby & I (& cat) the only ones home, we didn't care what the house really looked like. It was picked up as we were still assembling the baby room.
    But the yard was neglected. I wasn't expecting European rose gardens, but to have someone else keep the lawn mowed and keep our few pots of flowers watered would've been SO APPRECIATED! It was one extra thing to squeeze in.
    We had been in the neighborhood 2 years, our families don't live in town & we were on autopilot to work and the hospital all the time-I wish someone would've said something to us. Just to keep the place looking lived in!

  12. We survived off the kindness of our friends. Here are a few things that really helped:

    -The use of a car for the first few weeks. We don't own a car and our NICU was a 1.5 hour bus ride away. 3 days post c-section i tried to take the bus to the hospital….ouch. Friends took turns driving us/ picking us up for the first week. the second week a couple who was going out of town just lent us her car for 2 weeks.

    -lunch and dinner. We spent all day every day for 77 days at the hospital. At about day 15 my close friend noticed how much weight we had lost. we told her we hadn't had anything more then granola bars to eat. She organized friends to drop off food, including both lunches and dinners. She was so organized she made sure we had at 2 meals a day.

    -visits to the NICU and visits to our house. We had friends come by for regular visits to meet the babies and to spend time with me at night. This helped us feel like people loved our babies and helped get through the rough evenings when we had to leave the babies in the hospital.

    -dog walkers.

    -friends came to clean our house and do our laundry.

    -friends took us out to dinner to help us get some adult non hospital time.

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