For the media

Reading in the NICU: a love story

By The Health News Team | October 23, 2020
Melissa Stevenson reading a story to baby Jordan in the NICU at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns

Mom Melissa Stevenson reads a story to baby Jordan in the NICU at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns.

Every year, up to 15% of all babies born in the U.S. need to be cared for in a neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, after birth. There, the infants receive specialized care for a variety of serious concerns, from prematurity to respiratory issues and infection.

No parent ever wants their baby to require care in the NICU. Days and nights filled with the sounds of machines, the bustle of care providers and concerned whispers are far from what they imagined the early days with their new baby would offer. Elsa Stout, RNC-NIC, decided that the sweet sounds of parents reading aloud to their infants in the NICU would be a welcome addition.

Stout believed that in establishing a parent reading program in the Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns NICU, both parents and infants could find healing, decreased stress and increased bonding. Naming her study Parent Reading in NICU Therapy (PRiNT), she set out to find the benefits of parent reading during an exceptionally challenging time.

Benefits of reading to babies

Research has proven the benefits of reading to infants. From increased bonding and intimacy to better voice recognition and improved language, reading and math skills, reading early and often to babies truly gives them a head start. Stout thinks it’s never too early, and suggested it should begin in the NICU.

“Having an infant in the NICU presents such a stressful time and the separation of parents from their baby can impair bonding,” Stout says. “We wanted to determine if the normalcy of reading to their child and additional parental involvement while their baby was in the NICU would lead to decreased stress for both parent and baby, and provide improved voice recognition and bonding.”

With a mini grant from the Terrence and Barbara Caster Institute for Nursing Excellence, funded through the philanthropic contributions of donors to the Foundations of Sharp HealthCare, Stout developed educational tools for NICU nurses and parents, and provided book bags with books and a reading log to 69 parents with babies in the NICU.
Families completed surveys before, during and after participating in the PRiNT study and Stout was able to determine several positive outcomes, including:

  • Improved family-centered care

  • Decreased stress and better bonding

  • Enhanced NICU environment with sounds of parent voices, rather than just machines

“We heard from participants that reading to their infants made them feel closer, especially when they were in incubators and unable to be held,” Stout says. “Parents appreciated the opportunity to forget about what surrounded them and simply spend time with their babies, relaxing and bonding while also beginning to develop a love of reading together.”

Stout recently translated the study materials into Spanish and will continue to develop ways to improve the program and outcomes while reaching more families.

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