When You’re Spending the Holidays in the NICU

As you may know, Graham (our foundation’s namesake) and his sister Reece were born on Thanksgiving Day, so we know first-hand what it is like to spend the holidays in the NICU with your preemie instead of at home. We were lucky. Our friends and family seemed to understand how hard it was for us to celebrate anything when our babies were in the NICU.

This time of year is stressful enough without adding premature birth to the mix! This is the time of year where one holiday seems to blend right into the next, with Thanksgiving preparations beginning soon after Halloween, and the first notes of festive music appearing on the radio before the last of the turkey has been eaten. It’s generally regarded as a busy and overwhelming time of year for everyone, but for preemie parents, it can be extra tough.

The holidays fall right in the middle of RSV and flu season, and it can seem like there’s always someone with a runny nose just outside your front door. Whether you’re still practically living in the NICU or your little one is home, having a preemie can mean skipping the get-togethers and parties that have meant so much to your family in the past.

So how can you make the most of the holidays with your preemie? Here are four ideas:

  • Be open to celebrations as they come

Whether you’re limited in how you can celebrate because you’re trying to avoid crowds and germs or because you want to spend as much time as possible in the NICU, make an effort to let the holidays into your home and heart. So what if it’s just you, your partner – and your older children if you have them? That’s no reason not to do a little holiday decorating and cook good food and get into the spirit of the season when the mood strikes. Just keep your expectations realistic. And ask the NICU staff what you can do to bring the holidays to your preemie. Can you decorate the outside of your preemie’s isolette? We know cookies are usually appreciated by NICU staff. Your family may have a long way to go, but why not celebrate how far you’ve come?

  • Think small and say no

If this is your preemie’s first holiday season at home, your relatives may be anxious to have you over for gatherings and parties. Having to say no, if that’s what is necessary to keep your family in tip top health through the cold months, can be disappointing for everyone. But don’t give in just because you’re afraid of hurt feelings. In some cases, you can lessen hurt feelings by inviting a few very close family members over to celebrate – just make sure everyone is absolutely healthy first.

  • Don’t Forget Fun for the Little One

Celebrating in small ways can still feel meaningful, especially if this is your preemie’s first ever holiday season. As we said above, do what you can to bring holiday cheer to the NICU. Your little one won’t remember his or her first holiday, but you will! For those at home, involve your preemie in the festivities, but remember that the holidays can be overwhelming even when celebrations are simple. Since you’ll be celebrating small this year, consider using this time to create new family traditions that are low stress and just for immediate family.

  • Make plenty of memories

Don’t forget to take pictures and videos! Put your preemie in holiday themed outfits – even if it’s just a hat for the smallest preemies still in the NICU. Create a holiday card with your photos – who cares that the backdrop is wires instead of garlands? If you’re at home, now is a great time to start a holiday tradition where you snap a yearly picture of your preemie with a special holiday decoration as a way of measuring their growth from year to year!

Never doubt that you are capable of making this holiday season special but don’t commit to too much. Store-bought cookies are still delicious. An evening with hot cocoa and a movie is a lot more relaxing than hitting the holiday party circuit. Give yourself the gift of self care and find small but special ways to celebrate at home, in the NICU, and in your heart. The holidays don’t have to be flashy to be meaningful. Remember, your preemie is the greatest gift of all!

What are you most looking forward to about spending this holiday season with your preemie, in or out of the NICU?

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