Why read to NICU babies?
NICU babies are at high risk of poor neurodevelopmental outcomes due to prematurity, critical illness, prolonged hospitalization, low socioeconomic status, and family emotional and economic stressors associated with hospitalization in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Care in single-patient room NICUs can compound the issues of sensory deprivation and contribute to speech and language deficits in NICU graduates. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, reading with babies creates and strengthens neural connections that “promote … social-emotional development…and language and literacy skills during this critical period of early brain and child development.”
Providing parents and other caregivers books and encouraging them to read with infants in the NICU provides an important route for increasing infants’ speech and language interactions and supports bonding and family involvement with their infants’ care in the NICU. Studies have demonstrated that providing books to NICU families increases family reading in the NICU. Studies have also suggested that increased reading before kindergarten may result in increased brain development and that book ownership motivates reading.
Chattopadhyay N, Mitra K. Neurodevelopmental outcome of high risk newborns discharged from special care baby units. J Public Health Res. 2015;4(1):318. Published 2015 Feb 19. doi:10.4081/jphr.2015.318
Levesque BM, Tran A, Levesque E, et al. Implementation of a pilot program of Reach Out and Read® in the neonatal intensive care unit: a quality improvement initiative. J Perinatol. 2018;38(6):759-766. doi:10.1038/s41372-018-0060-8
Lariviere J, Rennick JE. Parent picture-book reading to infants in the neonatal intensive care unit as an intervention supporting parent-infant interaction and later book reading. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2011;32:146–52.
Hutton JS, Dudley J, Horowitz-Kraus T, DeWitt T, Holland SK. Associations between home literacy environment, brain white matter integrity and cognitive abilities in preschool-age children. Acta Paediatr. 2020;109(7):1376-1386. doi:10.1111/apa.15124