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.

Presence

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?

Victoria McCollum

Victoria McCollum is a birth and postpartum doula and owner of Doulas of Fredericksburg, in Fredericksburg, Virgina. She resides there with her husband and three precocious sons.