November 9, 2017

Reading Is Fundamental – NICU Book Program Helps Families Bond

By Nancy Lindell

Every day, mothers and fathers walk into the Mission Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) to see their babies. Often parents of these babies are unable to hold their children, to do the normal things that other parents might take for granted.

In part, this is why the Family Support team developed the NICU reading program in February. For each infant who comes into the NICU, a book is given – a book they can one day take home with them. This book stays at the bedside to be picked up by a parent, a nurse or a volunteer, and it is read by them to that baby.

“The goal is to help the family bond to the baby. They can’t hold their baby, so it’s an opportunity to bond in another way,” said Jessica Edwards, Family Support and Outreach Coordinator and Advisor, Family Support Network of WNC, Mission Children’s Hospital.

Often there is a sense of powerlessness that comes over parents whose baby is whisked off to the NICU. While the staff is friendly and the walls are painted brightly, the NICU can be an intimidating place for parents. The NICU reading program provides parents who are on an emotional and difficult journey with a way to cope.

“It helps create a sense of normalcy or something that a parent who was able to take their baby home might be doing. And the books go home with the babies,” said Linda Smith, RN, NICU Nursing Manager.

Babies in the NICU are able to hear and process sounds, so the reading program allows for critical brain and auditory development. While the initial hope of the program is to provide parents with a bonding experience, evidence is now showing that parent-infant verbal interactions in the NICU improve language and cognitive outcomes.

But more than the development benefits, the reading helps parents talk to their babies.

“Several family members have told me they appreciate being able to read these books to their babies because they are sometimes nervous about talking to their babies in front of us – they feel self-conscience – so reading the books really helps,” said Fiona Phillips, RN in the NICU.

The 51-bed NICU is typically full, so having volunteers is important to this new program.

“When I came into the NICU, our volunteers wanted to be more involved. A lot of times our volunteers aren’t able to hold the babies, so this program gives them a chance to interact with the babies on some level,” said Edwards.