Gifts for NICU Babies and their Families

when will my baby sleep?
My friend just had her baby early and they are going to spend some time in the NICU. What kinds of gift can I get for them?

We hear this all the time, and we've polled all of our NICU clients and a few NICU nurses to find out what the favorite gifts are for families spending time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Gifts for Babies in the NICU

Adorable preemie caps (those heads are TINY!!) or a sleeper for preemies are always appreciated.  NICU staff seems to appreciate snaps instead of zippers; they're easier to open in an emergency, and leaves rooms for wires and such.  Stay away from anything that would have to be in the crib with them-- they tend to keep the sleeping areas free from anything soft and squishy that might carry bacteria.

Something Sentimental

The minutes can feel so long, but the months and years pass quickly, and we frequently hear how the moments they never thought they would forget become lost in the fog quickly.  A special journal for NICU babies, or these adorable cards can help them record the memories so they can share them with the world and their baby as she grows at their own pace.

Gifts for NICU Mom

She (and her partner hopefully) will be coming and going all the time.  Some sweet treats and non-perishable snacks for her purse will help keep vital time with her baby to a maximum.  Hair ties, lip chap and quality travel sized unscented hand lotion (we LOVE the stuff from the locally owned LadyBurg) will help keep her hydrated in the dry hospital air and through all of the handwashing and sanitizing necessary.

Be Practical

The number one thing NICU parents tell us they appreciate is gift cards.  They are on the go all the time, sometimes quite a distance from where their baby is located.  Anything you can do to alleviate that stress is helpful.  VISA gift cards, gas cards, grocery cards, gift certificates to local places near the hospital to get something fresh to eat (you wouldn't believe how far a salad goes when you've been eating hamburgers fries and sandwiches), or pizza places that will deliver to the lobby of the hospital. Starbucks cards, or iTunes/Audible cards to help give them something to listen to during the long hours.

Also a clean house and a dinner at home that can be eaten in 30 min or less is a tremendous help.  Whether you are the kind of friend who can clean their house and leave a meal (other than pasta- EVERYONE brings pasta), or if you are more of a hire a housecleaner and drop off Panera one evening, that kind of peace of mind is priceless to a family traveling back and forth.


Sometimes our precious babies spend a few days regulating blood sugars and breathing and then are sent home.  Other times, the tiniest fighters can spend weeks and even months there.  In those longer stretches, the nicest thing you can do is to make sure they are remembered.  Visiting is nice, but sometimes distance or NICU safety precautions can make that very difficult.  There are other ways to be present:

  • set a reminder on your phone to send a "Thinking of you today" text.
  • call every few days and don't be surprised if they send you straight to voicemail.  If they do, leave a message, tell a short story and let them know you're thinking of them.  DON'T ask them to call you back or ask for details.  They will do so if they can/want to.  But just because they don't, doesn't mean your thoughtfulness isn't touching them deeply.
  • Send cards/letters to their home, so they have nice mail to look forward to when they ARE home.
  • Send photos of the outside world.  Of things that remind you of them.  Sometimes its nice to know there is more going on.

If you are a NICU parent, what were your favorite gifts or could you have used and didn't have?

Insanely Painful Breasts After Birth

clogged milk ducts

You are laying in bed, contemplating the latest eat-sleep-poop cycle your baby has presented, when you decide you're finally comfortable enough to get some sleep. You roll over onto your belly, and as you do, your chest explodes with pain, you see stars behind your eyelids, and it feels like you've just been stabbed in the boob.  With a red-hot poker.

You turn on the bedroom light, sure you're going to see a murder scene in your bed, or at least the legos left there by your 3 year old that usually cause that unexpected pain, instead you find all of your insides are exactly where they are supposed to be, but one of your breasts is very tender to the touch, and has a bright red spot.

You have a clogged duct.

Now that you have given birth, clogs aren't just for hairballs in your drains.  Milk can build up in the milk ducts, and causing a blockage in your breast tissue.  And since you can't ever really drain breasts completely, there can be a lot of pressure behind the clog, leading to a lot of inflammation and pain.  You'll want to get rid of this as soon as you can, because a blocked duct can lead to mastitis*.

Ways to help break up a clogged milk duct

  1. If you are trying to feed at the breast, keep nursing.  A baby's mouth is often the best suction available, but a pump is good too if you choose to exclusively pump.  (If you're not breast feeding, you'll want to skip to #4.)
  2. Nurse with the baby's chin pointed at the clog.  I've heard that its the greatest suction that happens when the chin points there, but I think also the motion of the baby's tongue on the tissue may have something to do with it.
  3. Dangle Nursing.  This is exactly what it sounds like-- put the baby in a safe location on his/her back, and dangle your breast over them to let them eat.  This has two benefits: it uses gravity to remove the clog, and also allows easier maneuvering of the breast so the baby can nurse most effectively.
  4. Warm compresses & massage.  We say these together because you want to use the warm compress to loosen the surrounding tissue, then massage from above the clog, through it, down toward the nipple.  Much like massage to hand express.  This is very effectively done in the shower, and keeping warm compresses on as much as possible during the day.
  5. Ultrasonic toothbrushes.  You know those fancy ones that vibrate bacteria away?  The hard end (not the brush end) right on the very tender area can help break up the clog before you express the milk.
  6. Make sure you are getting enough water. Its easy to dehydrate when you are hydrating for two, and if your milk is a bit dehydrated, that can cause clogged ducts.

Unfortunately, none of these things are comfortable, but they can help relieve the pressure until the problem resolves itself.  Some people are more prone to clogged ducts than others, but there are things you can do to set yourself up for not getting them again.

Preventing Plugged Milk Ducts

  1. Drink enough fluids.  I know I just said it above, but it stands to reason here that you want to make sure you are hydrated.  Breastmilk is a bodily fluid, and will be at its best when you are well hydrated.
  2. Let your ladies loose. When your body is balancing out its milk production (first 4-6 weeks) you want to stay away from bras that are too tight, compress the tissue much, or are uncomfortable.  Also, breast size permitting, try to stay away from underwires until your supply regulates.  (Underwires= extra pressure on the tissue). 
  3. Drain your breasts well at each feeding/pumping session. You can't ever really fully drain a breast, because its a demand and supply system.  But if you can express enough so you FEEL less full, you will help your breasts flowing freely.  That's because milk that sits for a long time has a much higher chance of causing a clog.  (Please don't go pumping after nursing in the first few weeks simply to prevent a clog.  That just perpetuates engorgement and oversupply.  But make sure your baby eats well from both sides, and that you notice a difference in the firmness of the breast tissue.)

*If you are experiencing or get any of the following symptoms (in addition to the clogged duct, right before you notice it, or right after) please call your medical care provider (your OB/midwife will see you, so will your general practitioner, as well as most urgent care locations) to get your potential mastitis diagnosed and to get antibiotics.

Finding You in the Mirror

doula in charlottesville

Is there anything that makes you feel like you can conquer the world more than taking some time for yourself in the morning?  I know you love snuggling your littles and reading them nursery rhymes as they wake up.  Those are special moments for sure.  But those rare occasions when you get to take a long hot shower and puzzle out

“Which is the best bottle for my baby?”. That quiet time is necessary self-care for mothers.

What makes you soar though are those moments after the shower, when the world is still quiet, that you take the time to put on your makeup.  To accentuate your inner beauty by tossing on a little mascara, some blush on your cheeks, and something other than your fading maternity clothes. 

It's not because make-up makes you beautiful, or that you aren’t enough all by yourself. 

It's because you know that you have taken the time to do something powerful for yourself today, and only for you. 

Your MAC mascara will likely not be noticed by your partner, and your Charlotte Tilbury lipstick will only leave kisses on your baby’s cheek, not their heart

But you know something they don’t know.  You know that you are getting your power back.  Finding the voice that belongs not to Mommy or to Honey but to YOU.  That your self and your person are

getting ready to take on the world once again, as you start to rediscover the self that was lost in the tide of parenthood. 

You are back, if only for the morning.


If Only I'd Had a Doula When I Switched Hairstylists

...she would have met me at a fabulous coffee shop, shown me around town, and really gotten to know me.  She would have validated my feelings about being overwhelmed and not knowing where to turn.  She would have asked me questions to get to know me, to form a relationship with me and learn about the things that are most important to me in a haircut and a stylist and a salon.

Food for Families: Best/Easiest Chocolate Cake, EVER!

In honor of this very noble day, we begin our series, "Food for Families" where you will find easy, delicious recipes to comfort your body and soul before, during and after pregnancy.

Filling Our Cups

As much as I love my kids, I love my business in a different way.  It fills my cup and provides a different joy and fulfillment than I found when I was a stay at home mom.  I get to go out and be the best me, so I can come home and be the best Mom.

Mommy Maintenance

Your health is not optional.  It's also not just physical.  Our mind, body and spirit are integrated. When the health of one fails, the others have to work overtime to compensate, and then they start to get worn down as well.  They are also all important components in what makes you, YOU.

The Scoop on Poop

Worst part of giving birth?  Pooping.

I'm not talking about pooping while you're delivering.  That's actually a great thing, and I can talk about all that in another post.  I'm talking about the horrible mind game that comes with pushing a baby out of my vagina (or having my abdomen cut open and then stitched up in two places), and then asking me to push something else out of my rectum the next day.

The Golden Months: Life with a Postpartum Doula

How do I get my baby to sleep?  Is breastfeeding going ok?  How do I know if my baby is eating enough? How can I get her to stop crying?  For Pete's sake, *I'm* crying all the time, is this normal?  Will I ever sleep again? What am I having for dinner?