5 Ways to Support Preemie Parents

The odds weren’t in Natalie’s favour.

5 Ways to Support Preemie ParentsBorn more than four months early, she was extremely fragile and vulnerable, weighing a mere 1lb, 6 oz. Medical professionals gave her a 10 per cent chance of survival and cautioned her family that if she did make it she would likely experience physical and mental challenges.

Natalie fought for her life every minute of every day for five months. It was a difficult journey to wellness, shares her mother Brenda. But today, she is a feisty and determined seven-year-old who brings great joy to her family.

In recognition of World Prematurity Day on November 17, Children’s Health Foundation asked Brenda to share five ways she feels family and friends can support loved ones with a critically-ill preemie in hospital:

1. Show compassion.

No one plans to have a baby in the NICU. If you have a loved one with an infant in the NICU take a moment to really understand what it must feel like for them. Life as they once knew it has taken a drastic change and they may be watching their little one fight for life.

2. Save the congratulations!

When you have an unexpected premature birth, it can be difficult to hear congratulations. It just doesn’t feel like the right time for those words. Taking a moment to acknowledge the anxiety and sadness they must be experiencing is much more helpful.

3. Be patient.

Parents of a NICU baby are experiencing a lot of emotional highs and lows, often referred to as a roller coaster ride. Not to mention, they’re facing a constant change of events that affect the health of their baby. Each parent handles the stress differently. Some, in a time like this, are too emotionally exhausted to desire family and friends to come visit. So please don't take that personally! On the other hand, some families find it encouraging. Be sensitive to their needs and please honour their request.

4. Provide support and encouragement.

Give a card or a love gift such as paying for a month parking pass or gift cards for food. Little snacks they can eat on the run are also helpful. Ask them how you can help lighten their load. Maybe they could use a freezer meal, help around the home or with yard work, support with their other children or care for their pets.

5. Remember their journey continues even after they arrive home.

The journey of a NICU parent is not easy, and most babies need to live a pretty sheltered life in the first year. Due to the fragility of their premature birth they are very susceptible to illness, so please don't pass off what seems like a simple cold to you as no big deal. If passed on to these babies it could make them very ill or take their life. If a parent asks you not to visit remember that they are their baby’s advocate and they are only doing what's best for them.

Thankful for the life-saving care her daughter received, Brenda gives back by facilitating Parent Hour sessions in Children’s Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). A peer support program, Parent Hour encourages parents with critically ill babies to share their challenges and successes while connecting with others who are going through similar situations. (Children’s Health Foundation and our donors are proud to fund this program and many pieces of life-saving equipment in the NICU.)

Have you had experience in the NICU? Share this story on Facebook and Twitter with your own suggestions on how best to support preemie parents.