December 6, 2019
To inspire connection and bonding between parents and their babies, the NICU at Women & Babies Hospital recently introduced a new program focused on infant development through reading. The program, called Baby Bookworm, encourages parents to read children’s books to their infants.
“Depending on the infant’s individual needs, parents may not be able to easily hold their baby, so we are always looking for ways to develop a bond,” said Brittany Huggard, NICU RN.
Language Nutrition Fuels the Brain
As part of her master’s degree program, Huggard researched the effectiveness and long-term results of “language nutrition” for babies. Through her education, she found that infants who have high-quality adult interactions starting at birth also experience an increase in social, cognitive and language development.
“Through scientific research, we’ve learned that infants and children who hear five minutes or more of spoken language during a 16-hour period will have increased language development,” explained Huggard. “A great way to increase spoken language for infants is through reading, which is why we developed the Baby Bookworm program.”
Reading Technique Matters
When the program was introduced in spring 2019, volunteer cuddlers were initially trained on how to properly read to the NICU babies. Volunteer cuddlers spend time interacting with the NICU patients. Sometimes, this includes holding the infants when parents or family members are not available, while other times they read books.
“It was important that those reading to the babies use an appropriate tone and volume. To help volunteers practice, we used a decimeter during training and educated them on the development of an infant’s brain,” explained Huggard.
After cuddlers were trained, the NICU staff worked together to educate parents on how they too could participate to increase bonding and their child’s development.
When a baby has met the required developmental milestones and can participate in the Baby Bookworm program, a bookworm with glasses is placed on their isolette. As part of the program, parents also receive educational material explaining the benefits of reading and how it impacts their child’s long-term development.
“Our team is always looking for ways to increase interaction between families and to continue to support our patients’ long-term development. Baby Bookworm does just that. We look forward to continuing to offer this beneficial program and eventually evolve the program by integrating e-books, so that there is more variety in books,” shared Huggard.