10 Incredible Gifts for NICU Families

Written by Jennifer Canvasser, Founder and Director of the NEC Society

My twins, Micah and Zachary, were born three months prematurely. They spent 91 terrifying days in the NICU, where they each nearly lost their lives. I am not exaggerating when I say that most of our 91 days in the NICU felt like hell. During this time, I did not reach out to my family and friends because I was too overwhelmed. I needed people to reach out to me and insist on providing their love and support. Fortunately, people did, and here are the amazing gifts they gave…

Do you know a NICU family? Which gift can you share? 

Babies need to feel their parents’ touch and skin, it is crucial to their development. During our NICU journey, an “expert babywearer” visited our family and showed us how to safely wrap our babies – even when they were hooked up to cords, wires and tubes. Babywearing allowed us to keep our babies close, snuggled up next to our hearts, with our hands totally free! Babywearing provides a beautiful (and convenient!) way for parents and babies to bond. All NICU families should learn how to “wear” their babies. 

Capture the Moments
DSC_3640In the moment, we had no desire to remember or document much of our NICU experience. It was so overwhelming that we just wanted it to be over. But now, we treasure every photo, video, handprint and keepsake from the boys’ first months of life. We loved having non-toxic, washable ink pads to make baby hand and footprints. High quality photos and videos are invaluable in reminding us to celebrate all of our babies’ achievements.

Children’s Books

Micah and Zachary couldn’t be held during most of their NICU stay. To connect, we read children’s books to them. We sat next to their isolettes and read story after story. The boys loved hearing our voice and feeling us close. The stories we read during their NICU stay are written in our hearts forever. Every NICU baby should own these books:

On the Night You were Born, by Nancy Tillman

Wherever You are My Love Will Find You, by Nancy Tillman

Oh, the Places You’ll Go, by Dr. Seuss

Healthy Food
IMG_8911Hospital food gets old, fast. We were always at the hospital and never made time to cook. We needed food that was easy to eat, satisfying, and most of all, healthy. Nursing (or exclusively pumping!) mothers need a healthy, nutrient-rich diet. Healthy meals from our family and friends were a godsend.

Help at Home
IMG_9471It was impossible to keep up with household tasks during the boys’ NICU stay. Even simple chores were neglected. We desperately needed help to keep our home functioning. Thankfully, our moms and neighbors stepped up. If you’re willing to lend a hand, please be specific with your offer. Here’s what we found extremely helpful: 

Help with siblings/the family dog

Help with the yard

Offers to run errands or pick up things from the store

Did we mention healthy food?


while wearing my baby…

Mama Milk
Breast milk is essential for medically fragile infants. Unfortunately, many babies in the NICU cannot nurse for weeks or months, which means mothers have to rely on a breast pump to establish their milk supply. Pumping is exhausting, uncomfortable, and challenging. Mothers of fragile infants need your support, encouragement and understanding. Fragile infants need mama milk. Partners, family members, and friends should do everything they can to support NICU mamas as they make milk for their babies. Donor milk is a great option for vulnerable infants whose mothers cannot provide them with enough milk.

IMG_4535Music heals. Micah and Zachary were fortunate to have a music therapist play live music for them, regularly. The music soothed all of us. When live music wasn’t available, we relied on Pandora or Spotify for uplifting music. Calm music drowns out sounds of chaos (i.e. alarms, machines, beeping) and creates a haven of peace and healing.

Personalized Baby Gifts
DSC_6189We treasure these special baby gifts that Micah and Zachary received while in the NICU:

– Handmade baby blankets/other items

– Baby blankets with the boys’ names

– Children’s books

Preemie sized, button up clothes Personalized keepsake boxes

Wraps or babycarriers that allowed us to keep our babies close

Planned Visits
IMG_7795Micah and Zachary were often so unpredictable and unstable that I did not want visitors. I could not handle one more person or anymore questions. Planned visits were wonderful. I am forever grateful to the people who took the time to call, email or text, to find out how the boys were doing, and allowed me to tell them when they could come by for a visit. Indeed, I wanted visitors. I wanted to share my beautiful sons with my family and friends. I wanted to be connected with life outside of the NICU. But, I had to feel safe and ready.

Presence. Words. Silence.
IMG_3029Be present in the moment with NICU families. Love the NICU baby for who she is right now. Stop looking for explanations or trying to make predictions. Just be in the moment. Here are some things to say to NICU families:

– Your baby is beautiful.

– I would love to support you through this journey. Can I provide/give/do___________?

– Where can I wash my hands? (hand hygiene is an important way in the NICU!)

– Use words that validate, empower, and recognize the challenges of being a NICU parent.

Tragically, baby loss is a real thing for many NICU families. Be sure to say the lost baby’s name and let the family know you haven’t forgotten about their precious baby. Finally, get comfortable with silence. Sometimes just being present, and listening, is all NICU families need to feel loved, validated and supported.

No one plans to become a NICU family. NICU families need the love and support of their family and community. If you know a NICU family, provide them with one of these 10 incredible gifts. Insist on showing them some love. A community of love will help NICU families become the best advocates, nurturers and champions for their precious babies.

17 Comments on “10 Incredible Gifts for NICU Families

  1. Thanks Amanda. I’d love to share this with others. Do I have permission?

  2. Pingback: 10 Incredible Gifts for NICU Families | Prem to the end

  3. 18 months ago my beautiful angel ELLA was in the NICU they are amazing people there did everything they could to save my baby girl but god wanted his tiny angel thank u staff of the NICU for everything u done for us .

  4. Pingback: Babywearing: a necessity for NICU families | MicahSmiles

  5. NICU staff are really amazing also they take care of our little ones like their own. my son spent 28days with them and is now at home and growing so well thanks to NICU.

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  8. These are great gifts. I wouldn’t have made it through my twin’s NICU stay without all the meals and support from friends and family. We had someone bring us dinner every night and another person come and watch our daughter so we could go to the NICU together. That was huge for us to be able to visit them together. Twice friends came over in a group and cleaned my house and did laundry while I slept. As much as I appreciated the meals, the clean laundry and home was much better.

    • I completely agree with you – help with chores at home is invaluable for NICU families! Thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts!

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