How to Support a Dad with a Baby in the NICU
Advice from a former NICU Dad on how you can lend your support.
When a family has a baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (also known as the NICU), relatives and friends often reach out to the mother first to see if there’s anything they can do to help. I understand why this is. Dads often put on a strong face as they try to be the rock for their wife, and don’t outwardly appear as if they’re in need of support. The reality, though, is that they’re just as frightened and worried as their wives are. So how can you support them?
One simple thing friends and relatives can do is to ask the NICU dad how he’s holding up regardless of how together he may seem. I know that when my daughter was in the NICU people asked me how my wife was doing far more than they asked me how I was doing. While I appreciated the concern about my wife, I had things I needed to get off my chest, too. Sometimes supporting a dad can be as easy as asking him how he’s doing.
It’s also important to stay connected after making that initial contact. NICU stays can be long, and the stress on a parent remains throughout most if not all of it. Continuing to check in via text, email, or a visit makes the experience a lot less lonely. I realize this can be hard for a lot of a NICU dad’s male buddies. Men often have trouble with emotions, and discussing a sick baby and all of the feelings that go along with that likely will be well out of their comfort zone. Still, if they want to support their friend they need to get over their reservations and make that call or visit.
There are also some practical things that can be done to support a dad in the NICU. One is to act as his spokesman by keeping mutual friends, co-workers, and family apprised of what is happening. It can be emotionally draining for a NICU Dad to have to repeat what is happening over and over, so taking the burden off him is a great help.
Another practical thing that can be done is to make sure he’s eating. I remember that, between the stress and spending so much time at the hospital, I rarely ate well other than when a kind friend or relative made sure that I did.
Lastly, it’s so important to talk to the dad about the baby the same way you would if the baby were healthy. Say congratulations and ask to see photos. Every baby is a gift, and the dad will appreciate that you treated his baby that way even if, ultimately, the baby doesn’t make it home from the NICU.
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