This week is both Feeding Tube Awareness Week and CHD Awareness Week (CHD stands for congenital heart defect) so it seemed like a good time to share some ways to help a family dealing with these issues—especially if they have to spend a lot of time in the hospital with a sick kiddo. Both of these topics are important to me since they have transformed the lives of my best friends and their girl, who is fondly referred to as #MightyViolet. (She's a strong and happy toddler now who currently loves these Egg and Cheese Mini Muffins and Chocolate Pudding!)
Even if you live hundreds of miles away, like I do from my friends, there are still ways you can loved ones deal with an extended stay in the hospital. Please chime in with other ideas if you've done (or benefited from) something that's not on this list.
Important Side Note: For all the pregnant mamas and friends of pregnant mamas, do double check that every brand new baby gets a pulse ox test to screen for CHD in the first 24 hours of life. It's easy, painless, and quick and it can save lives—literally. More and more states are requiring it by law, but until all 50 states are mandating it, be sure to ask for it.
10 Ways to Support a Family with a Baby in the Hospital
Many of these ideas would help a family with a healthy new baby at home, so consider them for that too!
1. Mail care packages.
Extended stays in the hospital can be depressing for everyone involved so getting mail can serve as a bright spot in the day. What to include? Shelf-stable food and snacks—granola bars, nut butter packets, granola, instant oatmeal packets—and homemade cookies will not go wasted. And no matter how old the baby is, include a few things just for him/her. Black and white books (Hello, Bugs was our favorite), Highlights Hello, or soft stuffed animals are good bets. (And if you do send a package, add a day onto whatever the USPS says since hospital mail rooms may not be as quick as you expect. And address it to the patient, not the parents, to ensure it reaches the right room.)
2. Give gift cards for food.
Whether or not they have access to a kitchen in the hospital or at a Ronald McDonald House, chances are they will still eat a lot of meals from restaurants. To help ease the financial burden, send gift cards for the places in the hospital or, if you are unsure of their options, a Visa gift card is a safe bet.
3. Bring them a meal.
If you live nearby and can find out their schedule, offer to pick up takeout for lunch or dinner. Having a meal that doesn't involve any of the hospital restaurants is a real day brightener.
4. Clean their house.
Hire a cleaning service (one that they've used or that their friends have used if possible to avoid adding worry about reliability) if you live far away, or go over and clean it yourself. You'd be amazed at how much dust gathers, even in an empty house—and how much better it feels to arrive home from the hospital to a sparkling clean home.
5. Bake for the nurses.
Nurses in the PICU (and in regular pediatric wards) have some of the toughest jobs around. Let them know you are grateful for their hard work taking care of the littlest patients by sending homemade cookies or a package of goodies from a company like Dancing Deer.
6. Give them a few hours off.
If you are a close friend and you aren't sure how to help, offer to stay with the little one for a few hours so that the parents can sleep/shower/exercise/get some fresh air. They might say no but the opportunity to have a little break, as hard as it might be for them to leave even briefly, might be just the thing for their mental health.
7. Take care of their pets.
This is again dependent on where you live, but if you are close, consider helping to feed cats or walk the dog. They are family members that need love too.
8. Send really nice toiletries.
Fill up a box from a company such as the Honest Company and send lovely lotion, soap, and hand sanitizer that's safer for baby. These small items can make a home away from home a little nicer.
10. Keep in touch—but don't press for replies or information.
It's hard to feel like you are supporting loved ones when you can't be there with them everyday, but a text or a card is a simple way to let them know you are thinking of them. But so that your messages don't become a burden, consider including a "no need to reply!" at the end so they don't have one more thing to add to their to-do list. They'll likely respond anyway, but at least they'll know you understand that their plates are very full.