More than a few experienced parents told me to skip putting newborn clothes and newborn-size diapers on my baby registry. I listened because I’m a bit of a minimalist mama, and I wanted to avoid filling my small New England home with unnecessary baby clutter.
The consequence of this intentional (and seemingly wise) decision was that I didn’t have anything that would fit my four-pound, nine-ounce baby when she came into the world six weeks early!
On my daughter’s third day in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), her nurse dressed her for the first time. This incredibly thoughtful NICU nurse found a secondhand onesie from a donation pile and carefully dressed my baby in it. I cried when I saw her. My daughter looked like a healthy-ish baby for the first time. There was something about the clothing that seemed to preserve my baby’s dignity a bit. She looked less like a hospital patient on that day.
My story is a story shared by so many families. The March of Dimes reports that 380,000 babies are born preterm in the U.S. each year. For those families, their birth story is a tale of tiny tubes, isolettes, unfinished nurseries, and too many worrisome nights in the NICU. Even in the best of circumstances, most families are completely and totally unprepared to have a tiny preemie baby.
For that reason, I send preemie onesies to the NICU at Brigham and Women’s Hospital to celebrate my daughter’s birthday each year, and it’s also the reason I’m sharing the gift list below.
Here are my top 10 gifts to send to parents with a preemie baby in the NICU:
Snaps on baby clothes can be a pain at times, but they are totally necessary when you have a preemie. Preemies are strapped to several different machines. There are cords everywhere, and zippers end up being a challenge to work around.
Nearly all the babies in the NICU will be hooked up to a foot monitor that tracks their heart rate for the duration of their stay. Rompers make it easy for baby to be clothed while keeping the foot monitor exposed.
3. Cooler bag
Moms who want to breastfeed but have babies in the NICU have to pump at night because most families will not, and in some cases cannot, stay overnight in the NICU. It’s not uncommon for breastfeeding NICU moms to bring pumped breastmilk both to the hospital and back home from the hospital (preemies don’t consume very much). This cooler makes transporting that liquid gold safe and easy.
Many babies in the NICU enjoy kangaroo care. Kangaroo care is when you hold your baby skin-to-skin on your chest. Kangaroo care is good for babies and parents. To keep baby warm during these skin-to-skin sessions, parents will cover the baby’s back with a blanket. There’s nothing wrong with the hospital-issued blanket, but little things, like a sweet patterned blanket, can bring a bit of unexpected joy to a parent with a baby in the NICU.
Swaddling is not easy, and it is especially challenging when you’re trying to swaddle a baby with cords everywhere. These swaddles that use velcro and zippers take the stress out of swaddling. Note: The hospital staff will pull the cords up and over the zippers.
Breastfeeding can be a challenge for any mom, but it’s really hard to do in the NICU. Many babies haven’t developed the sucking reflex when they are born so early, and the NICU is loud and the machines scream bloody murder when you shift the baby even the slightest bit. A snug breastfeeding pillow can make learning to breastfeed easier for baby and mama.
Did I mention how loud it is in the NICU — constant beeping, people walking, people talking, phones ringing, and announcements over the PA system. For tired new parents (many NICU moms are getting up every couple of hours to pump), it can be very hard to take short naps in the NICU. These noise-canceling headphones will help.
I’m definitely in the “baby needs to eat” crew and think women should feel as comfortable as they want to feel feeding their hungry babies anywhere and at any time. However, pumping in a busy hospital setting can be uncomfortable. A chic nursing shawl can help.
Consider purchasing a week’s worth of chef-quality prepared frozen meals that can easily be transported and warmed up at the hospital. One can only eat and enjoy a limited number of hospital cafeteria meals before things start going downhill.
10. A foot monitor
NICU babies are monitored around the clock. When your preemie is discharged from the hospital and no longer monitored for breathing lapses or heart rate irregularities, those first few weeks at home can be really scary. These at-home monitors can make the transition home a little less worrisome.
Having a baby in the NICU is a stressful and isolating experience for new and experienced parents. Loving gestures from “the village” can make all the difference.