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A NICU Parent Survival Bag

Luke07_doorAfter birthing four babies, I could pack the “hospital bag” in my sleep. The NICU survival bag, however, was much harder to pack for my fifth child. It’s like going on a trip and not knowing the schedule, the weather or when you’re returning. Impossible to predict, but painfully important to have what you need for the most difficult journey you’ll ever take.

Ever since our NICU stay, when I learn of a friend who finds herself in the NICU, I immediately pack a survival bag full of goodies that I know she needs. While I can’t pack a discharge date and a cure for all the suffering, I can ease the pain a bit. I’m hopeful this list helps you, or someone you know, who finds herself in the neonatal intensive care unit.

NICU Parent Survival Bag

  1. Hand lotion. That’s a no-brainer. Each time you enter the NICU, most visitors endure a three-minute intensive scrub-in procedure to prevent bacteria and germs from leaking into the bays. Your hands take a beating and hand lotion is the perfect cure.
  2. Granny underwear, for the c-section mom. Fortunately, my best buddy who has had five of these brought up a package of underwear before I even asked. Truth be told, I was too embarrassed. But oh-my-stars did that care package save my life.
  3. Healthy snacks, like water, fruit and crackers. On the long NICU days, I rarely left the hospital and when I did my food choices weren’t stellar. Most NICUs don’t allow anything other than water, however you can step just outside the doors and munch on a piece of fruit or a package of crackers or fruit snacks to boost your energy levels. Some days, this was my only sustenance.
  4. Phone charger. As isolating as the NICU can be, my phone was my saving grace. Exchanging texts with friends and family, updating folks via Facebook, Twitter and my blog were so easily done via my iPhone. The problem was, I kept forgetting the charger. If only I had just bought an extra one and stashed it in my purse!
  5. Religious prayer book or card. An anonymous friend sent our family a ring of prayer cards during our son’s hospital stay. They’ve been with us for each of his hospitalizations and they’ve brought us tremendous peace and comfort. Perhaps a similar gesture will be as well received by your friend or family member.
  6. Gift cards for restaurants close to the hospital. Let’s face it. Hospital food gets old and expensive, fast. Several friends chipped in some cash and bought our family some gift cards to local restaurants. It was a welcome change from the bland menu and I found I could make the cards last when I was careful about my food selections.
  7. Camera and charger. When you’re going through the NICU fog, your brain tells you to block out all the bad stuff. The problem is, your child is growing and changing in the NICU. I found that documenting my son’s progress (and setbacks) was an incredibly healing activity. The last week of his stay, a good friend came to the NICU and shot some stunning and poignant photos for our family. They are some of my most cherished ones.
  8. Neck/shoulder heating pad. I didn’t realize the stress I was carrying until one day, when my cousin dropped off a heating pad for my neck and shoulders. I borrowed the NICU microwave and placed the pad on my shoulders. Pure heaven. It had a lovely scent and the warmth really helped me relax.
  9. Tylenol. I’ve lost count of the number of headaches I endured during my son’s hospital stay. I finally remembered to pack some Tylenol!
  10. Shawl/wrap for pumping. Because my preemie was NPO and unable to eat anything by mouth for weeks, I pumped. A lot. Inevitably, a specialist would knock on the door as soon as I fired up the breast pump. Rather than miss out on an important meeting with the doctor, I learned to wear a shawl and motion for them to come in while I was pumping. It wasn’t glamorous, but it preserved my privacy.

What else would you add to this list? I’d love to hear!


Kathryn Whitaker About Kathryn Whitaker

Kathryn Whitaker (TX) is the mother of six (including two 36-week preemies).  Her fifth child was diagnosed with IUGR (intrauterine growth restriction), born at 3lbs. 9oz. and then developed a severe surgical case of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).  He has various medical needs as a direct, and indirect, result.  On her personal blog, Team Whitaker, she writes about what she knows: big families, carpool, kids activities, faith, her beloved Aggies, specialist appointments and sanity checks with her husband.  You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.


  1. Crafty things! There will be times you need something to do with your hands! During our five month stay in the NICU, my big girls and I learned to knit, and we made tiny hats for all of the babies!

  2. A journal and pen/pencil

  3. A disposable camera for the nurses to take pics when you’re not there and lanolin for all that pumping.

  4. Apart from all of the above we took:
    Tissues for days when we cried (and for our visitors),
    Story books, so we could read to our daughter, maybe not essential, but a comfort for us.
    Our thank you cards to write for those who bought gifts. (and Christmas cards as our stay was over Christmas)
    A journal, I got a lot of comfort from detailing our progress in a book.
    Breast pads

  5. Cheryl Brennan says:

    I would suggest an ink pad and some paper for getting the baby’s footprints.

  6. I downloaded a bunch of books that we have in hardcover back home that we used to read aloud during my pregnancy and read them to him when I visit. It makes me choke up when I start reading and he turns his little face toward my voice.


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