We were lucky enough to not spend Christmas in the NICU (just all summer!), so I don’t have first-hand experience with actual Christmas time in the NICU. I can imagine it brings its own set of struggles, being away from family in the hospital, or being away from your little one with family outside of the hospital… Either way is a guilt-ridden, no-win situation for any NICU mom.
Regardless of the time of year, there are many things NICU parents love to receive as gifts during their time in the hospital. My husband and I did not communicate much of what happened during our NICU stay with friends or family for the first half of it, and I only started writing a lot about our journey near the end and now that we’re at home.
But if you’re wondering how to help a friend or family member who is currently in the NICU with their child/children, a small gift can go a long way to cheering them up and letting them know you’re there for them.
Being in the NICU is a bit like a time warp. You feel like time has stopped existing outside of the hospital, with no idea what has been going on in the real world (and no care to know). But at the same time, it also feels like everyone else’s life continues unscathed and you’ve been left behind, without anyone noticing.
I can imagine Christmas time just makes all of that harder.
So! Here are my 8 top recommendations for what to get the NICU parent in your life this holiday season… especially the moms out there, but many of these work for NICU dads too, of course. 🙂
1. Starbucks/Coffee Shop Gift Cards
Look up whatever coffee shop is located in the hospital and buy gift cards for it. We NICU moms run on coffee and the little coffee cart is usually where we grab lunch from too if we didn’t bring anything!
If your friend is far away, this is also a great option as most stores let you email or text gift cards (Starbucks does right here or you can download their mobile app to send via phone).
2. Children’s Books or Toys
Check with your friend’s NICU if toys or stuffed animals are allowed. In ours, they weren’t. Nothing with fabric was in case of germs, other than clothes which the parents took responsibility for.
However books are always a safe bet! Sometimes all we NICU moms can do at first is sit beside our baby in a plastic box and talk to them. Touching them is not even allowed sometimes, for weeks or months.
Grab a few children’s books for your friend so they have something to read to their new baby and start building that bond, even when they can’t hold or touch them.
3. Big Ass Sweatpants
Your recently-given-birth friend will thank you, seriously. Don’t be afraid to go for a big size with a drawstring waist if you don’t know your friend’s size.
I recommend Old Navy for cheap ones that are comfy, like these French terry joggers!
4. A Nice Journal and Pen
I wrote a page of notes every day we were in the NICU. Sometimes for practical reasons, like jotting down their stats (weight, oxygen percentages, etc) and other times to write down questions to ask the doctors the next day, or just to record my thoughts and the happy and/or hard moments.
I love having this keepsake from our time there to look back on and it’s come in handy to remember milestone events, like their first bath, first surgery, first time wearing clothes, breastfeeding, etc.
I used just a crappy beat-up Hilroy notebook that was laying around the house, but kind of wish I went out and bought something nicer. LOL.
Chapters usually has nice journals that your friend will love to use, or Paper Source has a lot, with ones you can even customize with a name. You can’t go wrong with this classic leather-bound journal.
5. A Coffee/Tea Thermos and Some Snacks
Once again, we run on coffee and snacks! In the NICU, most food isn’t allowed in the room (at least in ours it wasn’t). You couldn’t bring in smelly leftover food or a whole meal to eat, because the smell would be too strong for the preemies, and also just annoying to other people and the nurses doing their jobs. Plus the risks of foodborne contaminants, proper hand-washing, etc.
I used to buy big bags of trail mix to keep in our room, along with granola bars and instant oatmeal pouches (to make in the family lounge for breakfast most days).
If you really want to wow your friend, put together a basket of packaged, non-smelly snacky foods that can be stored in the NICU room.
My faves included:
6. Preemie Milestone Cards
These are so great to have for photos! A fellow NICU mom gave me these and I loved them. In our boys’ case, I wasn’t able to use many of them and a lot of their issues didn’t fit into the cards, but they are so great to have for the big, “regular” milestones, like being off oxygen, reaching certain weights, etc.
I’m not sure where she got them, so these aren’t the exact ones she got, but this store sells lots of different styles of them (+ other great preemie gifts!).
7. A Phone Charging Case
We were lucky that our NICU was brand new and had outlets everywhere, but in a lot of hospitals built before mobile phones were a thing, you’ll be lucky to find an outlet you can use in a hallway or something!
Keeping your phone charged is not just about being able to snap pictures or call family. It feels like a lifeline when you want to run out for a coffee/meal and ask the nurses to call you if anything happens to your baby. It’s a sense of security that you can be reached in an emergency.
Nowadays they even have battery charging cases.
I haven’t tried a case like this myself before but this battery case looks pretty cool – it can charge your phone twice without even plugging it in. (Magic.)
8. Home-Cooked Meals
Of course, always a favourite! Everyone loves food. We were lucky to have a few people make us some meals in the beginning after I was first discharged from the hospital and it was SO NICE. Not just because, ya know, our bodies need food, but also as a breastfeeding (pumping) mom, I need ta gets ma calories in to make milk!
Just understand that not everyone may be up for socializing during this time, either physically or emotionally, so offer to leave your meal at their doorstep at a pre-arranged time (so it doesn’t go bad or get rained on, etc). They’ll really appreciate that.
Are you a current/past NICU parent? What gifts did you appreciate receiving when in the hospital, or what do you wish people would have done to help you out? Post below in the comments so those reading for gift ideas can have more inspiration. 😊