September 3, 2019

Fab 4 Gifts for NICU Moms

Posted in: NICU Awareness

Do you know a deserving Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) mom who can use some love? A NICU admission is almost always surprising but definitely stressful on any family. If you’re unfamiliar with the NICU you may want to give mom & dad a little something but not know what’s appropriate. Baby might even be here before the baby shower! Some parents are worried about buying baby clothes or gear & “jinxing things”. You’re stuck, “how can I help my loved one?”

To kick off NICU Awareness month this September I will be writing several blog posts dedicated to one of my greatest passions, the NICU! And what better way to start than to answer a question I get asked a lot. “My friend just had her baby but she’s way to early. My friend is scared. I don’t know what to do. I want to get her something. What do you get a NICU mom?”

After 10 years as a NICU nurse, I’ve developed a go-to list of NICU appropriate gifts ideally suited for when mom & dad find out baby will spend time in the NICU. In fact, this is the very list of gifts I gave to my cousin when her daughter was expected to spend 3-4 weeks in the NICU last year!

Fab 4 Gifts for NICU moms: two parents in patient gowns holding small NICU baby

1. Books

Depending on the baby’s NICU diagnosis, baby might be too fragile to hold or to hold often. This is not what any mom pictures when she finds out she’s pregnant. But the first way baby recognizes others is consistent sounds & smells (not vision). Even if little one is in an isolette, or incubator, mom & dad can read softly to him as he rests & matures. For the older love bugs, when they reach the quiet alert state & can be held more often, they love to focus on someone reading to them!

  • Increases baby’s recognition of parents
  • Increases baby’s comfort
  • Increases bonding
Fab 4 Gifts for NICU Mom: NICU library
(Original Painting by Jane Mount)

Gather a small (space is limited) “library” of books for family to read together. When you select your books keep in mind these two stories with themes straight to the heart of the NICU:

Fab 4 Gifts for NICU Moms: "Three Little Words" book
  • In particular, I love “Three Little Words” by Amy Novesky, based on the movie Finding Dory. You’ll find out soon why I think Finding Dory was written for NICU families as a story of hope & perseverance.
    • Take it a step further! Encourage baby’s caregivers (with parent’s permission) to sign the book so it becomes a special memento from the NICU stay as well as a powerful message. Just keep swimming, baby.
  • For longer NICU stays, I recommend “Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J. K. Rowling. After a while, reading baby books can become a little monotonous for mom & dad. Give them something that can help them push forward with great themes like heroes can be found in the unexpected places & that love is the strongest magic we possess. The Boy Who Lived is an extraordinary boy & I’ve yet to meet an ordinary baby in the NICU. You can read more about why I believe Harry Potter is the perfect chapter book for longer NICU stays in the link in the last sentence. When writing this paragraph, I couldn’t stop! Hello, new blog post. 😊

2. Heart Shaped Fabric

As mentioned above, the first senses to develop well are hearing & smell. We want baby to recognize mom & dad! Mom or dad tucks the fabric under their clothes for a few hours (super easy when you’re wearing a bra, sorry dad!). Then, brings the parent-scented heart into the NICU & the linen is placed into baby’s bed. Now, even after mom & dad leave after their visit baby will smell & recognize their presence. And then! Mom comes back, takes the now baby-scented linen & can smell it while she pumps to help increase her milk supply when she’s away from baby (seal it in a Ziploc). Bam!

  • Increases baby’s recognition of parents
  • Increases baby’s comfort
  • Increases mom’s milk supply
  • Increases bonding
Fab 4 Gifts for NICU Moms: Smiling NICU baby girl laying on heart shaped fabric in crib

Sometimes dads might feel silly tucking fabric into their clothes. That’s very common & there’s no need to feel embarrassed!

  • One option is to sleep on the small pieces of fabric (tucked in a sleep shirt or just underneath his torso) so he doesn’t have to be conscious of them during the day & can still participate.
  • But if dad’s still not feeling it, that’s ok too! This can be something just for mom. These gifts are designed to improve bonding not make anyone feel awkward.

The heart shaped fabric in the link is a little expensive (8 pieces, currently $15.99) that will last mom just over one week before washing. It’s a great gift option if you’re a family member or friend that doesn’t live close (especially if you have Amazon prime!).

Fab 4 Gifts for a NICU mom: fabric quarters to make fabric hearts to soak moms scent to bring to baby
  • If you do live close & are budget-friendly like me, go to a fabric store instead. Pick something out that has significance to mom & dad. Characters from a favorite movie or sports team might give them a laugh during a hard time & is not only another way to show you care, but adds something of the family to baby’s bed. Now, mom or dad can share a piece of their personality with baby. Let me tell you about your family…

Any fabric (including clothes, although NICU babies can’t wear clothes until a certain point depending on condition, age & weight) must be washed first. Dreft or a perfume-free, dye-free detergent like All Free & Clear will help protect baby’s sensitive skin! (Spring Fresh scent for example can cause a reaction.)

3. A Button Up Shirt

Once baby is stable enough to hold, it’s time for skin-to-skin (STS). Skin-to-skin, or kangaroo care is when mom or dad holds baby heart-to-heart with no clothing between them but baby’s diaper & a hat. That includes no bra! Then a blanket or two will be placed over parent & baby. This is a beautiful, bonding time for families!

Fab 4 Gifts for NICU moms: a mom holding her NICU baby skin-to-skin. baby has a nasogastric (NGT) feeding tube
(Photo credit: Medela)

A large button up shirt (or two so she can take one home to alternate washing & one can remain in the NICU) for Skin-to-Skin care is a fabulous gift. This shirt will help keep her arms warm, when baby is centered on her chest, to help her focus on what she needs right now: time spent bonding with her bundle of joy.

How does baby stay warm, especially a baby who was just in an isolette (or what used to be called an incubator), you ask? Our bodies were made to take care of children! When infants are placed STS, our skin continuously monitors their temperature & will increase or decrease in temperature depending on their need.

One study showed if a mom placed a twin on each breast and one twin became cold while another became warm, each breast would change temperature to accommodate each infant. How neat!

Fab 4 Gifts for a NICU mom: an African American dad holding his NICU baby skin-to-skin & kissing his forehead, baby has a nasogastric (NGT) feeding tube
(Photo credit: Children’s Hospital Oakland)

When a baby is held STS for at least 1-hour rapid brain growth can occur & baby can improve temperature, breathing, heart rate & even blood sugar!

STS also stimulates mama’s hormones to lower her stress after baby’s birth.

4. Plastic Toy

Safety is our #1 priority in the NICU. I think both parents & staff members can agree on that. Nobody wants anything to happen to our sweet babies! Tragedy should be prevented at all costs. A fun way to share the joy of childhood without losing the focus on infection control is to bring in a plastic toy like a rubber duck or a rubber Dory!

What not to bring: stuffed animals! The one plastic toy (& just bring one space is limited) can be easily wiped down with our strong chemical wipes in the NICU. But germs LOVE to hide in the textures of a stuffed animal & should not be anywhere near a NICU baby.

Special word of caution:

(Photo credit: The Today Show)
  • In particular, a certain octopus went viral last year with posts claiming they were great for NICU babies. I won’t go into the posts claims because they’re false. Most NICU doctors or nurses won’t support the claims because not only are stuffed animals an infection risk but there’s a more immediate risk! Those long legs are a strangulation risk you do NOT want in your baby’s bed! (While both infection & strangulation should be scary enough words to strike fear into anyone heart these are particularly scary words to NICU staff.)

*Every NICU has slightly different rules so keep an open mind. If they ask you to take anything home, remember they have your newest love bug’s best interest in mind! Then save the gift for home.

You know mom & dad best! I hope this gift guide inspired you to create your own NICU gift for the special family in your life. Being a parent is the hardest job on earth… and the most important. Being a NICU parent? 😨 It’s an emotional roller coaster ride. I’m so glad they have someone like you. Someone thinking of them & trying to do something sweet for them. Buy one of these gifts, all of them or mix some of these gifts with something else you’re thinking about. Just remember the most important thing for them right now is bonding time with their baby. Be there when they ask for help or need to talk but sometimes the best gift you can give them is time to bond between the three of them (& however many siblings baby has).

Until Next Time,



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