Parents of premature babies miss out on so much - usually months of preparation, the chance to go shopping for the essentials, have a baby shower or even go to antenatal classes. They probably haven’t got many of the basics, let alone anything suitable for a premmie. Personally, I went into labour at 25 weeks and at that point we had a handed down cot and change table (which were all in pieces as we’d planned to repaint them), one set of cot sheets, and two small bags of clothes in newborn and 0-3M sizes. Back then the possibility of having our baby several months early had never occurred to me - I thought we’d have heaps of time to get sorted! Trying to organise baby gear while juggling the daily NICU routine is really difficult and just adds to the stress.
Fast forward to now, and the number one thing I’m asked is “what would you recommend?” It’s a good question if you’ve not had any experience of the NICU but to answer it isn’t that simple - it all depends on the individual baby. Please stick around while I explain why! As a quick example, a family with a micro prem is going to have a much different journey to a late preterm baby, and it’s different again for a full term baby with health complications. It’s a big help if you have some understanding on baby’s gestation (that’s the week of pregnancy that baby was born at) and their development, so here’s a quick run-through:
Micro Prems are extremely premature babies, generally weighing under 900g (2lbs) and born before 26 weeks. They are tiny and fragile, hold out your index finger and take a look - that’s likely to be wider than baby’s leg! Micro prems will need more medical support for breathing (most will start out on a ventilator), feeding, may face infections or surgery, and will be in an incubator until closer to 32 weeks gestation.
Premature babies can vary a lot in their development. They could weigh under a kilo, or be three times that! Late preterm babies (born 34-37 weeks) usually need less respiratory support than those born earlier, but often need help with feeding, maintaining their blood sugars and temperature. Regardless of gestation, all prem babies are at risk of infections and other complications from their early birth.
Full term NICU babies may be larger than most of the babies in the unit but they can require just as much (or far more) support. They could need help with breathing, stabilising blood sugars, fighting infections and require surgery. Depending on their complications, baby might need a couple of days in NICU for observation, or they may have a much longer stay.
So before this sounds like one of those baking blogs where you need to scroll through a 3,000 word essay to find the actual recipe, let’s get on with the ideas!
If you’re looking to buy premature baby clothing, remember all babies in NICU need to be dressed as easily as possible. Basically you’re looking for clothing in natural fibres to reduce the risk of overheating (100% cotton, merino etc), and that opens down the front instead of being pulled over baby’s head. Here in NZ most babies aren’t dressed while they’re in the incubator, the tiniest premmies only wear nappies and hats for a month or two so please don’t think that you need to buy loads of Micro Prem clothes! As baby grows towards 1.5 - 2kg they’ll become stable enough for an open cot and then will be able to wear their own clothes - the Small Prem size is the safest option for their first outfits. For bigger babies chose the appropriate size for their weight (every item in our clothing range is labelled with a handy weight guide to get the best fit). Clothing for full term babies is easier to find in the usual baby stores, and we also have NICU-friendly bodysuits in a Prem/Newborn size.
As alternatives to clothing, Octoprem or Cuski Miniboo are both cute yet incredibly useful gifts. Before giving it to baby the parents can keep it close to their skin so it absorbs their unique scent, then the comforter will help to soothe baby when mum or dad aren’t around. Going home and having to leave your baby behind in the hospital is always a struggle, but knowing your baby has their comforter with them actually helps us parents too!
We love NICU Journals, Premature Baby Books and Milestone Cards – they can be used at any gestation and they all help the family to record special memories with their baby! Premature Milestone Cards also come in Twin versions, and the Little Fighter sets are designed for full term babies or those facing big hurdles. The NICU can be full of ups and downs, however taking photos or keeping a journal of these moments really highlights baby’s achievements and the parents can look back at how much progress they’ve made.
On the subject of creating memories, if your budget allows perhaps book a photoshoot or hand and foot casting that can be done in the neonatal unit. Have a look for photographers and casters that have experience working in the hospitals so they’re aware and are considerate of the restrictions in this special environment.
Nutritious, ready to eat meals are one of the most practical gifts you can give. There are many meal delivery services around which make it easy to send some amazing dinners when you live in another city (or if your cooking skills aren’t the best!). Take a look at businesses such as Angel Delivery, Cook’s Night Off, Eat, Fed and Juk. Remember to check their delivery zones before you order as not all of these will deliver nationwide, or google for services in the family’s local area.
Baby’s parents will be spending many hours at the hospital so consider books, a few magazines or things to do which will help pass the time. Keeping a diary or journal, working on a scrapbook, reading, or drawing in an adult colouring book are some great options – plus it can help with stress and with processing their journey. Did you know that books for baby are beneficial too? Studies have shown that while in NICU parents should read to their little one at least once a day because it’s great for bonding and can assist baby’s brain development! Classics like Winnie the Pooh, Guess How Much I Love You, and On The Night You Were Born are sweet additions to start baby’s book collection.
Putting together a care parcel would be a beautiful idea for the family. Along with the other items above, you could include gentle hand sanitiser, hand cream, lip balm, notebook and pen, yummy snacks or chocolate, a water bottle or keep cup, their favourite tea/coffee, a gift voucher for a nearby café or petrol. Think about including baby’s siblings too, this could be something as simple as a little bottle of bubble mix or activity book. To make things easy we have a range of gift sets available in our shop, you can add in any extras you like and we’ll gift wrap them all! As an added bonus, for each gift set sold we make a donation to The Neonatal Trust.
A gentle reminder to please be mindful with your gift choice if baby is extremely premature or has major health complications. Tiny outfits and a lot of named nursery items are adorable, but it can be overwhelming for the parents to be surrounded by these things if their little one doesn’t make it.
If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you read my previous blog – Practical Ways to Help a Family in NICU. It’s really important to recognise baby’s birth, so a huge thank you for searching for a beautiful gifts that are appropriate for their journey.
Posted: Monday 5 July 2021