By Bri Ziganti
When a child you love has to spend Christmas in the NICU, how can you make things easier on their parents?
Christmas is fast approaching. Most new parents are excitedly preparing for their little one’s first holiday celebration.
But for those with a child still in the hospital, the holidays can be a difficult, frustrating time. Spending Christmas in the NICU instead of with family and friends is an isolating reality for many preemie parents.
Perhaps the hardest thing to face is the knowledge that their baby’s first Christmas won’t be spent under twinkling lights and a festive tree, taking cute keepsake pictures in an adorable Santa outfit. The loss of everyday luxuries and the expected, traditional Christmas experience can be devastating for moms and dads of premature infants.
How can you help the preemie parents you know celebrate Christmas in the NICU? The SafeBaby team spoke with a few parents and nurses to gather some ideas:
8 Simple Ways to Make Christmas in the NICU Easier:
1. Consider purchasing gift cards to restaurants near the hospital you know they enjoy.
Eating from the on-site cafeteria can get boring, but it’s difficult to find the time or energy to cook a meal in between work and the NICU. Eating in restaurants several times a week is out of budget for many preemie parents, so offering to pay for a few meals can be a much-needed help.
2. Offer to take over the household chores for a day.
Imagine the relief of coming home to washed dishes and a fresh pile of folded laundry. A clean, organized space will be a much-need retreat for harried parents.
3. Write them a letter.
Instead of buying them physical presents they have to transport, try writing them a heartfelt letter that lets them know you’re thinking about them. In the days of text messaging, receiving a handwritten note is a great feeling.
4. Make them a comforting item.
If you can knit, sew, or crochet, make them a blanket for them to use during Kangaroo Care. Comforting items from home help personalize their room and make the time in the NICU a little easier.
5. Offer to hire a photographer to take pictures with their child (but ASK FIRST).
Some parents will not want pictures of their baby in the NICU, but many others will love the chance to feel like a “normal parent” and get the same newborn photos that full-term families often receive. Don’t do this without the parents’ full blessing though- you don’t want your well-meant gift to be upsetting.
6. Stop by the NICU and deliver the parents a plate of holiday food.
Missing out on traditions like special, seasonal recipes is just another reminder of what they and their child can’t be a part of right now. Taking time out of your day to bring them the goodies they look forward to all year can really make a difference.
7. Decorate their room (again, ASK FIRST).
If you’re close enough to the family to visit their child in the NICU, talk to one of the nurses and see if regulations would allow you to hang a simple stocking with the child’s name on it. A few NICUs we spoke with even allow their families to set up a small Christmas tree as long as it’s battery-powered (don’t want to trip over any cords!) If decorations aren’t allowed, see if you can dress or drape the baby with a holiday-themed onesie or blanket. Obviously, clear this with mom and dad beforehand!
8. Ask them if they need someone to shop for them or wrap presents.
The last thing on a preemie parent’s mind is making room in their schedule to go shop for gifts, but they may still want to give them. Ask them for their list and spare them the stress of holiday shopping.
Finding the strength and motivation to celebrate the season when a child you love is in the hospital can be next to impossible. Preemie parents often rely on their family and friends to help pull them through this difficult ordeal. Christmas in the NICU may not be what they hoped for or expected, but with a little thoughtfulness on the part of family and friends, it can be easier to bear.