This mum with a big heart is making a difference to parents with babies in NICU

Breakfast bar NICU food from the heart

Having a baby who’s born prematurely or requires intensive care is often very unexpected and can be extremely difficult emotionally and logistically for a lot of new parents. However, thanks to one kind mum, some parents are getting a helping hand with a few home comforts to make things just that little bit easier.

Food from the heart

Sydney mum of two, Michelle Barry, sure is one busy lady but that’s how she likes it. If working part-time and looking after her children Conor (seven) and Emma (five) wasn’t enough, she also runs two community programs – one of which is called NICU Food from the Heart.

An initiative founded by herself and a friend, Rebecca Ilie, in January 2017; Michelle organises food for parents with newborn babies in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) at her local hospital.

“We’re both mums and work in health and saw a need for parents whose babies are in intensive care and often struggling a lot more than other new mums and dads,” says Michelle. “Because the babies are the patients though, the parents aren’t provided with meals and many don’t take care of themselves as their baby is their number one priority, and so we thought we could provide care for them through food.”

Make a difference
Michelle places ‘Make a Difference’ tubs in local childcare centres and other businesses to gather food donations for the Breakfast Bar.

Parents struggling 

According to Michelle, some babies can be in NICU for up to six months with many families not actually from Sydney but areas like the Central Coast with no family or friends nearby. And many mums are there for 12 or more hours a day, with dads often working all day and then coming straight to the hospital, which only offers minimal supplies such as milk and tea and coffee.

“Many mums are really focused on expressing milk to feed their babies, as it’s one of the only things they’re able to do, and so it’s really important that they’re getting good sustenance for their milk supply and personal wellbeing,” says Michelle.

Gathering regular donations and creating a Breakfast Bar full of nutritious breakfast items, snacks and treats was the first priority for the two mums, but as it turned out this was just the beginning.

Dads night NICU
The Dad’s Night happens every Thursday at Michelle’s local hospital and caters for 25 new dads

Support for dads

“We started doing extra meals and gifts on special days of the year and then one of the nurses suggested we do a dad’s night, where once a week all the fathers come in to the NICU for kangaroo care [skin-to-skin cuddles and special time] and a nice meal,” says Michelle.

The idea behind it was that dads could spend special time with their babies while connecting and sharing with other new dads in the same situation – something that mums often experienced in the day but their partners missed out on. So she spoke with some local restaurants and soon had six signed on for a six week roster where they all now take turns providing hot, tasty much-needed meals for dads of newborns.

“I once walked in and saw a dad eating cold baked beans from a tin and was so happy I could replace it with a hot BBQ chicken and healthy salad,” says Michelle. “For me though, hearing the dads talk to each other and really connect through their babies was a big moment which made me realise that what I was doing was really helping.”

Read more about premature babies:

Michelle’s daughter Emma with her own kangaroo; Conor and Emma with Rob from local eatery Hayberry with burgers and fries for Dad’s Night

Being the village

Unfortunately Rebecca moved interstate last year meaning Michelle has since been running the program solo, but she has had the assistance of her two children who help with the breakfast bar and dad’s night deliveries, something she feels is important for teaching them about helping others. 

“Rebecca and I always knew we could help from a practical sense by providing food, but what we didn’t foresee was the social side that our program would create,” she says. “Seeing parents who are so preoccupied with the health of their new baby actually take the time to sit down and take care of themselves too is wonderful. It’s great I can share this with my kids as well.”

Michelle-Conor-Emma-Barry
Michelle with her children Conor and Emma at the 2017 ‘Walk for Premmies’

Spreading wings

Michelle has organised a lovely brunch for her NICU mums this Mother’s Day along with a gift bag each full of goodies such as chocolates, candles, books and even earrings. She also has plans to expand NICU Food from the Heart into other hospitals across Australia and is currently in talks with a charity organisation about making this happen.

“I know I can’t make their babies better or their situation, but Rebecca and I always considered ourselves the silver lining and so if I can contribute to making a baby’s hospital stay a bit more positive for the parents then that’s great,” adds Michelle. “I love what I do and think it’s really important.”

Ways you can help

If you’re moved by Michelle’s work with NICU parents then here’s how you can help (even if you don’t live in Sydney):

  • Local businesses can place ‘Make a Difference’ tubs at their workplace for employees to donate food
  • Clothing companies can donate items like robes and comfy clothes – something in high demand currently
  • Local bookstores can donate books that parents can read to their child
  • Individuals not in the area can give monetary donations or supermarket gift cards (for special projects and when food donations are low)
  • Local cafes and restaurants can provide meals and items for dad’s dinner nights and other special events 

You can find out more about NICU Food from the Heart or offer support today.

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