Read to your baby in the NICU

preemieOur Director of NICU Family Support shares a story about the power of reading to your baby, even if he is in a neonatal intensive care unit.

While working in the NICU, I had the privilege of knowing one particular family whose baby was born at twenty-eight weeks gestation.  This little boy was going through a particularly vulnerable and fragile time and staff had requested that handling be kept to a minimum.  Until he stabilized, his anxious parents were asked not to hold him.  Despite this distressing limitation, the baby’s father, an intense and intellectual man, found his own way to get close to his beloved son.  Early each morning before his job, this father would come in and tuck himself behind his growing son’s incubator.  And in deep, hushed tones, staff and families would hear this dad reading “The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin” to his baby boy through the incubator’s porthole window.

As staff, we began to depend on this father’s soothing voice of care in the early mornings.  Families approached me and asked me if I had books for them to read to their children.  I had an idea.  Inspired by this very father, I created the Bedside Reading Program, a rolling cart of children’s books in various languages, so that every family could read to their babies at the bedside.  It would be a way to bond, to parent and to get close despite all the barriers of the NICU.  The NICU became a library, where every parent was reading to his or her baby.

Recently I was able to get together with the family who inspired this program.  And today that little boy is eight years old and is reading to his father.

Now, through a generous in-kind sponsorship by Scholastic, Inc., we have a March of Dimes Bedside Reading Program in sixty-one of our March of Dimes NICU Family Support sites nationwide, at least one per state, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.  In addition, enough books have been donated to provide Sibling Lending Libraries in the NICU and a book gift to every family at the end of their baby’s hospitalization.

If you would like to donate to the Bedside Reading Program or get involved with NICU Family Support in your state, please contact your local chapter of the March of Dimes. No matter how old your baby is, read to him often to help him develop. Reading is one of the most important things you can do with your child.

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12 Responses to “Read to your baby in the NICU”

  1. Teresa Powell Says:

    I was not aware of how this program began, but almost 2 years ago when our son was in the nicu we received a book to read to our son while we stayed in the nicu.
    What an inspirational story and it truly brought tears to my eyes as i remember sitting in his room every day reading and talking to our little zackery just the same.

  2. Karina Says:

    I was not aware of this program. When our son was in the NICU I read to him everyday. I had some of his books in my hospital purse and I would hold him and read him I Love you this much, and Good night moon. These where the same books we read to him when I was pregnant. When he was close to being discharge I would play a recording of my husband reading these book. Don’t know how much it helped him. But we believe that it helped him alot.

  3. Tiffany Herion Says:

    I used to read to my baby when I was pregnant with him but now that he is in heaven I feel almost as if he reads to me sometimes. May God bless all the families.

  4. Alexandra Says:

    Truly one of the greatest ways to bond with your baby in the NICU. My husband and I couldn’t hold our daughter until her 14th day in the NICU, prior to that day to touch her we had to be fully gowned with gloves on. Reading and music where are two tools that bonded us to our daughter. Now our cardiac preemie is a strong, vivacious 7 year old. And her favorite things in the world are books and music. Even to this day when we go for our annual heart checkups we bring the books and an I-pod so she can read and listen to music, the combination relaxes her and allows her to drift into a wolrd of immagination and wonder.

  5. Susan Says:

    My twin boys were born at 27 weeks,I could not hold them for the first of three months they were in the N.I.C.U.. They spent their first Christmas, and Valentines Day there and I read to them every day.My boys are now 8 yrs. old and read very well and have for quite a while and we still have many of those books I read so long ago. I do now plan on donating books to our local chapter, hopefully they participate in this program. The reading helped me as well,feeling I was able to do something for my children!!

  6. Regina Cordova Says:

    We have a baby still in the hospital, he has been there 7weeks now. His older brother goes in to read to him everynight. My older son decided a while ago that if he reads to his brother, then he will come home sooner cause it will help him to grow faster and be ready to come home.

  7. Lindsay Says:

    I’m so glad you and your children all found it so beneficial. Me, too. Regina, I love that your older son is reading to your little one. I hope he grows strong and comes home soon.

  8. Lisa Kelley Says:

    Our surviving twin was born at 27 weeks.. we were unable to hold him most of his first month of life.. someone had given us a spring basket with a book inside.. I read that book to our son every day while he was in the NICU his first 8 weeks of life and in the ICU the other 4 weeks .. we continue to read to him daily.. it was a wonderful way to bond with our son and still is… he is now 22 1/2 months old.

  9. Diane Says:

    I have a grand daughter that was born at 26wks she was 1lb 15ozs and my daughter and I would go and see her everyday and we would read to her, now she’s 3 years old and we can’t keep her quiet and every time we are in a store we have to buy a book. I think reading to them at a young age will help the develop their vocabulary skills.

  10. Lindsay Says:

    Tiffany, I’m so very sorry for the loss of your little son. I’m sure you miss him very much. What a sweet thought to think of him reading to you.

    Lisa, it’s so sad to read about the loss of a baby and I’m sorry to hear about yours. I’m glad the reading was helpful to you during those difficult days and that you both still enjoy it now.

  11. Gregg Says:

    I have two daughters born four years apart, both born premature. My first daughter born at 27 weeks and my second daughter born at 29 weeks. My oldest daughter was born at 1 lb 6 oz, and we weren’t able to hold her for her first nine weeks. The closest NICU to our house is about 100 miles away, and my wife and I continued to work part time and split our time at the NICU. Everyday that we were there, my wife and I would talk with our daughter and read her stories, but due to the distance we had to travel and the insurance we needed to keep through work, there was a two day period (less than 48 hours) during the midweek that neither of us could be at the NICU.

    We had several scares during her 6 months in the NICU, but the 4 biggest scares all came midweek when we weren’t talking or reading to her. When her biggest scare was over and after we thought we had lost her, we bought a Fisher Price Tape Player and recorded our voices (and the grandparents’ voices) reading books to her. We filled both sides of the tape (about an hour) with stories and prayers.

    Once our daughter could hear our voices reading her stories everyday, she didn’t have any more complications or scares. When our second daughter was born at 2 lb 6 oz, we did the same thing for her (she too was 100 miles away), and she thrived from the beginning listening to our voices reading stories all day, every day. Our daughters are 9 and 5 now, and they love listening to us read them stories or reading stories to each other.

  12. Lee Says:

    Thank you for this posting. I am a graduate student in Child Life and am researching reading to infants in the NICU. I have had several rewarding opportunities to read to infants in the NICU, and I have enjoyed every minute of it. The father in this posting was a positive role model for parents as well as staff. Again, thank you for sharing this!