Family Matters

Reading to Newborns in the NICU Boosts Bonding

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In the unhappy event your newborn needs to log time in the neonatal intensive care unit, you might want to bring a book — for you, of course, to help pass the time, but even more importantly for baby.The instant a baby is born, many hospitals place the newborn square on mom’s chest to facilitate mother-child bonding. Holding, cuddling, nursing and whispering sweet nothings to a baby are all ways of strengthening that bond. (More on Study: Breast-Feeding Improves Academic Performance, Especially for Boys)

But when an infant is whisked away to the NICU, the bonding comes to an abrupt halt. All it takes is a simple board book to help reverse the trend, according to new research in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

Reading to babies in the NICU can help parents develop the same feelings of intimacy that parents of healthy newborns cultivate in the days and weeks after a baby’s birth.

The study, which involved 120 families, found that close to 70% of parents indicated reading helped them feel more attached to their babies. Reading them feel like “normal” parents and and helped them feel more in control of the situation. (More on Time.comAre Crib Bumpers a Nursery Necessity? CPSC Vets their Safety Record)

“Alyssia was in an incubator in the middle of the room, with tubes and all sorts of things going on around her,” says study participant Mélissa Asselin, mother to a 5-year-old who was born with pulmonary hypertension. “Reading gave us a way to stay close. I couldn’t talk to her or touch her, but she heard the sound of my voice. That simple activity helped me get through the situation, and I have beautiful memories of the experience.”

The study also looked at whether reading in the NICU had an effect on encouraging parents to continue reading to their babies once they were discharged. Regardless of whether an infant has spent time in the NICU, any baby benefits from hearing stories. The more words a baby is exposed to, the better prepared that baby is to start talking and, eventually, reading independently. (More on Time.comAre Crib Bumpers a Nursery Necessity? CPSC Vets their Safety Record)

Researchers found that parents who read to their hospitalized babies were three times as likely to continue at home. “As health professionals, we must give parents the tools they need to cope with the situation,” says Jan Lariviere, the lead investigator and a NICU nurse at The Montreal Children’s Hospital. “Reading should become an essential tool in NICUs and follow-up clinics.”