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Pete’s Perspective: The Benefits of Reading to NICU Babies

Pete’s Perspective:  The Benefits of Reading to NICU Babies

Media Contact: Karina Rusk

Our Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) helps our tiniest patients get the best start possible in life. Their care involves leading-edge medical interventions. It also involves human connection.

Salinas Valley Health NICU nurses, other care providers and family members of these infants recently participated in a NICU read-a-thon, Babies with Books, to support exposure to language, one of the many components of NICU developmental care. It’s a friendly competition with more than 250 other NICUs nationwide.

Studies have shown reading increases bonding and improves infant health and neurodevelopmental outcomes. Compared with healthy infants, babies requiring NICU care have higher rates of speech and language deficits. Reading strengthens neural connections that promote social-emotional development and language and literacy skills during this critical period of their lives.

Our nurses and others who care for these unique patients enthusiastically embraced the read-a-thon, and it is something we will continue. When babies hear language and words, it stimulates hundreds of their brain cells to connect. That helps set up pathways for all kinds of future learning.

While long a practice to be as quiet as possible in the NICU, we now know that soft voice exposure through talking, reading or singing is beneficial. Research has also shown better cardiorespiratory strength and growth in babies exposed to parents’ voices in the NICU.

In addition, reading aloud helps build an essential bond between parents and babies, deepening parents’ involvement with their child’s care in the NICU. Many parents are emotionally overwhelmed and may be hesitant about what to say and how to interact with their tiny, medically fragile newborns.

Reading provides an easy platform to get them started. It helps build a habit of reading sessions that care providers hope will continue well into the future. Bonds developed through reading can stretch further, strengthening parents’ relationships with their babies.

Our nursing mission at Salinas Valley Health is to heal, protect, empower and teach. Reading is a fundamental way to support this mission. For NICU babies, it provides a significant opportunity to improve their odds of success. It benefits both our little ones and their families.

Parents can’t be at the NICU bedside all the time. Our care teams’ work in language stimulation is an important part of the excellent medical care we provide – the kind of human connection that helps our patients thrive.

Be safe and be well.

– Pete

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