June 4, 2021
Clinical contributors to this story
Donna Lee, MD contributes to topics such as: Pediatric Emergency Medicine.
Sabrina Malik, MD contributes to topics such as: neonatology.
Having a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is stressful for parents, but there are some easy ways friends and family can help, say Sabrina Malik, MD, a neonatologist, and Donna Lee, MD, 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 approved for skin-to-skin contact, the medical team recommends that babies get as much skin-to-skin contact with parents and other trusted relatives as possible. “It’s great for their brain development to have that skin-to-skin,” says Dr. Malik.
2. Participate in developmental activities. Premature babies have different developmental needs, says Dr. Malik. The Small Baby Unit, the children’s hospital, is the only NICU in the state of New Jersey to achieve JCAHO’s disease-specific prematurity certification. You can also talk to the NICU occupational and physical therapists to learn some techniques you can do with the baby after you get home to help with physical and cognitive development.
3. Be an extra pair of hands. All babies are a lot of work, but premature babies 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 together, says Dr. Lee.
It’s also great to have an extra pair of hands to manage some of the things a premature baby goes home with, such as oxygen supplies, which come with lots of tubing, and can make simple things like bathing or changing a baby. diaper more challenging, she adds.
4. Offer emotional support. Parents whose babies are 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 cup of 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 see the light at the end of the tunnel. “The babies will get better eventually, but you can’t rush it,” says Dr. Lee. Let the parents know you’re there to support them throughout the journey.
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