To help babies have a better developmental outcome, Cincinnati Children’s is launching a new program to help parents connect and bond with their babies through books. The NICU Bookworm Program at Cincinnati Children’s will provide access to free books to families throughout their hospital stay. This includes a personalized first book on admission with a NICU Bookworm goodie bag and guidance on the benefits of shared book reading provided by trained care teams.
“Shared reading means exposing your baby to a rich language using books as a script that can be in the form of talking, reading and singing. We encourage parents to tell their own story using pictures in the book,” said Viral G. Jain, MD, a Cincinnati Children’s neonatologist and founder of the NICU Bookworm Program. “Our goal is to convey to parents that sharing a book with their newborn, no matter how young, has multiple benefits – it not only helps promote their baby’s development and enhances bonding, but also gives parents a chance to do normal parent things in a high stress NICU environment.”
The program is part of a large scale study by neonatologists from Cincinnati Children’s caring for babies in the NICU at the medical center and at UC Health. Previous data has shown adoption of shared reading in the NICU has been very low. As part of the study, researchers will be looking at the positive effects of parent-infant shared book reading starting from birth. They’ll collect data and feedback from parents and staff. Researchers will then analyze if this current intervention will lead to increase levels of reading in the NICU.
“The current trend in brain science is to go younger and younger. We are learning the most rapid stage of brain development is in the first two years,” said John Hutton, MD, Director of the Reading & Discovery Center at Cincinnati Children’s. “There are really robust connections taking place. All these things are responsive to stimulation whether it’s being held or hearing language.”
Reading books also creates a bonding experience during what can be a difficult and emotional time. Sherri Lindsay’s son Brandon has been in the NICU since his September birthday. She keeps books in the room and reads to him every day. Their favorite book is Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss.
“I like to watch his reactions even though I know he’s young, but it seems like he reacts to the things I say and read sometimes,” said Lindsay.
NICU mom Ashley Pointer is able to tune out the beeps and noises of machines by reading to her newborn son, Deacon.
“Reading makes it feel like home and takes you away from all the medical stuff,” said Pointer. “I can sit here on the hospital couch and it feels like I am not in a hospital for about five minutes. It’s great.”
“Part of it is the reading development and then part of it is the interaction between parent and child. For many families, those 15 minutes of special one-on-one interaction with a book once a day can be a very powerful thing,” said Tom Dewitt, MD, Director of Division of General Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s, and co-chair of Reach Out & Read National Board.