September 19, 2022
Expecting parents never anticipate that their baby will be born prematurely, requiring special care from the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). When this occurs, an overwhelming flood of emotions can overcome these parents, often leaving them questioning what they can do to help their baby’s well-being. There is a simple – yet significant – thing parents can do to enhance their baby’s development: reading.
NICU babies have a higher risk of poor neurodevelopmental outcomes due to prematurity, critical illness, prolonged hospitalization, and family emotional and economic stressors associated with hospitalization. The NICU team at Methodist Hospital is joining the national Babies with Books read-a-thon, an effort that encourages parents to spend time holding their babies and reading aloud to them. Reading has been shown to promote stronger bonds and stimulate cognitive and social-emotional development, as well as decrease infant and parental stress related to intensive care hospitalization.
“When parents read to their infants in the NICU we can see babies slow their movements and listen to their parent’s voices. Their heart rates often slow to be within normal range, their breathing rates become more regular, and their oxygen levels increase. Parents also seem to be more relaxed and less anxious,” commented Rebecca Westfall, NICU RN.
New mom, Chamonti Bussey, was excited to join the effort in reading to her daughter born at just 26 weeks. She was reading Ambitious Girl by Meena Harris, stating that her daughter really enjoys that book.
Rebecca says this effort is just the start of a journey that continues at home after leaving the NICU. It’s something parents and their children can cherish and will have long-term effects.