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10 Tips for Surviving the Holidays in the NICU

As we wrap up November, we wanted to pay one last tribute to this important cause. This year over 380,000 babies will be born "too early." Chances are if you know 10 friends or family members that are pregnant at least 1 or 10% of them will have babies that are premature. Can you imagine not taking your baby home for the holidays? The holiday season can be challenging for everyone, but for families that do not get to take their loved ones home, this time can be especially difficult. Thank you Whitney Bell for helping us this November and sharing some helpful tips to NICU families for the holidays.

DISCLOSURE: This information is not meant to be ALL encompassing and should NOT replace seeking advice from your health care provider for specific questions, solutions, and concerns about your health! The purpose of this blog is to spark curiosity and gain some insight into your health.

Everyone finds strength in different places. What got us through our NICU stay was our faith in God, the hospital staff, family, and friends. Each day I practiced finding at least one mindful moment, a time where I could sit silently, reflect, and find the inspiration I needed to make it to the next day. On Thanksgiving day, the year my daughter was born, I found the message below from Spiritual Inspiration on Facebook. The daily quotes always seemed to directly speak the words I needed to hear in that moment. I'll never forget this Thanksgiving or these words.

November 24, 2017 Day 328 of 365 To the person reading this… “You are on the verge of your breakthrough. Stay strong, have faith, and pray. You are going to make it!”

1. Make the most of the situation. We know it isn't easy but celebrating even the smallest victories in the NICU can bring comfort and peace.

If you cannot bring your baby home for the holiday, bring the holiday to your baby. Find ways to enjoy your current situation. Try and get into the holiday spirit. Most often the NICU will let you decorate the isolate, incubator, or crib. Many Etsy shops sell cute stickers or cards for NICU milestones. Don't forget to buy your favorite preemie 1st Christmas outfit, bow, or blanket. Although many parents feel the need to be at the NICU often, it's okay to take the time to decorate at home if this is one of your family traditions. Bring those traditions to the NICU.

2. Take a break!

Some days in the NICU seem like they could go on forever. It's okay to take a break. Go home and enjoy your family. We know it’s hard to leave your baby, but it’s okay to visit with your friends and family. These visits can rejuvenate you! This is especially important if you have other children at home. Making the holidays special for your other children can be a great source of joy this season. Don't forget to take daily pictures of your NICU baby for their siblings to see! Remember, siblings are going through some big changes too. If you normally bake cookies with your kiddos, continue this tradition. You can even bring your yummy treats to the NICU nurses for a special personal gift.

3. Participate in family activities if your hospital offers any!

The NICU staff knows the holidays are a rough time for families. There is often joy in solidarity! You may have to step outside your comfort zone, but take time to participate in some of the festivities your hospital may provide, such as family dinners or Christmas parties. Ask your nurse if they provide any special holiday celebrations such as having Santa come visit the NICU or pediatric floors. These events will definitely put a smile on your face! Many hospitals host events where you can meet previous NICU parents. Sharing stories will help you gain insight into your experiences.

4. Ask your family for help.

Holidays are a time for giving and receiving. Let your family bring you comfort and joy. Let them bring you a plate of dinner, tidy up, do the laundry, etc. or just go to the hospital with you for moral support. I know you don’t want to add more to anyone's holiday plate, but I promise they won’t see it that way. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially if you have other children. If you are looking for ideas on what to get your friends with NICU babies check out these suggestions.

5. Practice gratitude.

The holidays can be a great time for reflection. Add some positivity to your NICU day by taking moments to reflect on what you and your family are grateful for this year. Think about all the milestones your baby has hit, the support your family/friends has given you, and the support NICU staff has provided for you during your stay. Take the time to write some personal notes and show some gratitude. Let people know that you are thankful for their gestures and can’t wait for them to meet your little one after isolation is over. Check out these free printable ideas for Thanksgiving.

6. Read your favorite holiday classic to your baby.

Studies show that babies begin to hear around 25 weeks and are often comforted by the sounds of their parents voices. Studies also show that reading out loud to your baby helps their brains grow and develop faster. Don't worry about feeling silly. This activity can be an important way for you to bond with your baby. We all have our favorite holiday book to get us into the spirit. What baby wouldn’t want to hear the sound of their parents voices? Turn your reading times into a family tradition. One way to involve siblings is to have them pick out the books you will take to the NICU and record yourself reading out loud or you can facetime during story time. The book below is one of my personal favorites but you can check out other books HERE.

7. Bring treats for the NICU staff.

There isn't a hospital staff member that doesn't love something freshly baked from home (or store bought). Whether you just met the NICU staff or have known them for months, they are your baby’s caregivers when you can’t be there. Many moms feel especially close to their NICU family. It’s nice to share the giving season with others by bringing some special treats to show how thankful you are for them! If you have any family traditions bring them to the NICU staff. Remember they are taking care of your loved ones and missing their families while working too!

8. Write a letter to the baby!

This is something you can involve the entire family in! Have each member of your family, even your extended family or friends, write a letter to your baby! Make a "Santa's wish list" and display it in the NICU! It's okay to include your hopes, dreams, and maybe even your fears for your baby. Writing or journaling during this time can be very therapeutic for you and your family. Save these letters and read them every year during the holidays. Start a new family tradition.

9. Take pictures!

Make sure you ask if and when Santa is coming to the hospital so you can snag some cute pictures with the baby. Dress the baby up in some holiday gear and capture those special moments. Many families have been very creative with their family holiday pictures this year. Use facetime or skype to take a full family photo with your baby!

10. Communicate and stay connected!

Being in the NICU can feel quite isolating. Maybe you don't know what to say to your friends and family. Maybe you don't want to share your fears or worries with others. It's okay to feel this way. Staying connected to those you love can help. Use the holidays as an excuse to make phone calls or participate in Zoom family gatherings. If you feel overwhelmed by all the emails and texts from your loved ones, think about sending a weekly update email to those you love. This can take some of that anxiety away and allow you to focus on the progress your baby is making.

These are just a few ways to keep families together during the holidays without physically being together during these tough times. You can do this. You are stronger than you realize. You can get through this. We will be thinking of you during this holiday season and sending lots of joy your way.

If you’re looking for a way to give back this holiday season, the Christmas 2020 NICU Family Support Fundraiser is a worthy cause!

Most years, the NICU Parent Advisory Board is able to be a part of a Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner to ease some of the sadness of a parent having their child in the hospital over the holidays. This year we are unable to do that due to the protections in place to keep these vulnerable little ones safe from COVID.

It is our desire to provide gift cards to each family spending the holidays in the local NICU to remind them that they are cared for and to ease a small part of the financial burden they are facing. You can make a donation by clicking HERE.

The March of Dimes also helps provide comfort and support to families in NICUs. All of their work is made possible by the generous support of donors, partners, and friends.


This was written by Whitney Bell - mom of two girls: a 28-week preemie that is 3 years old, and a 37-week preemie who is 9 months old.

Happy Holidays from our family to yours!!

- The Bells

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