The Many Benefits you Need to Know About Reading to Your Preemie

Preemies need all the love, care, and attention they can get, especially while in the NICU. If you’re a new preemie parent searching for information about the benefits of reading to your preemie, you’ve come to the right place! We’ve got the data on those benefits and some advice and tips for you too! Read on to find out more and make reading to your precious preemie a priority!

The NICU Can Be a Scary, Confusing Place for a Baby

Of the many challenges a premature baby faces in their first days and weeks in the real world, dealing with the NICU’s lights, noise, and commotion might be the most consequential. Research has already shown that preemies (and their parents) often have PTSD after a premature birth, and the craziness of the NICU doesn’t exactly help.

Then there’s the fact that most preemies, due to the risks associated with premature birth, have to be physically separated from their momma and other parent(s) for days and sometimes weeks while they grow, mature, and heal from any procedures they’ve undergone.

In other words, the NICU is a scary, stressful place. Anything to lower this stress and help preemies and their parents cope is always welcome, which brings us to the importance of reading to your preemie.

Research Shows Reading to Preemies is Highly Beneficial

Several research studies have shown a strong connection between reading to preemies and improved language skills later in life.

This study, for example, found that parents who read to their preemie in the NICU felt an increased sense of normalcy and increased intimacy with their preemie.

Another study, and the resulting program, Parent Reading in NICU Therapy (PRiNT), established a parent reading program in the Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns NICU. Their findings showed that:

  • Family-centered care was improved through reading to preemies.
  • Bonding was improved and increased.
  • Stress levels were considerably lower among those parents reading to their preemies.
  • The NICU itself was improved, with the voices of parents drowning out the whir of machines.

Elsa Stout, RNC-NIC, who helmed the study, also developed tools for parents with preemies in the NICU, including books and reading logs. The results, as described by Stout, were promising and positive. “We heard from participants that reading to their infants made them feel closer, especially when they were in incubators and unable to be held,” she reported after she and her colleagues concluded the study. 

Stout went on to say that “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.”

Reading to Preemies in the NICU Improves their Brain Development

Here’s a fact; over 50% of preemies born at a very low birth weight will have language delays when they start school. That’s according to a study helmed by Carmina Erdei, MD, a neonatologist in the Department of Pediatric Newborn Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Also, several other studies have shown that if a premature infant is not exposed to language during their time in the NICU, at around the age of 2 years old, their language performance will be much lower than their peers.

While admitting that these facts are problematic, Dr. Erdei also believes that there’s an easy way to do something about both; read to your preemie while they’re still in the NICU

The Many Benefits of Reading to Your Preemie in the NICU (and Afterward)

Study after study on the effects of reading to preemies in the NICU come to the same conclusion; it’s vitally important and has life-improving long-term benefits. Below are the best of those benefits, including:

Advancing their Brain Development

The simple act of reading out loud to your preemie exposes them to language, including the sounds and cadence of words and sentences. This, in turn, helps their tiny brain to develop, mature, and grow.

Helping them Develop their Language Skills

As with the above benefit, hearing words and sentences helps premature infants develop their language skills (even if it doesn’t seem like they’re listening).

Increasing their Vocabulary

Hearing words, even if they don’t know their meaning, help a preemie grow their vocabulary. While it may not seem to be helping now (it is), down the road, when they start learning to read and write, the words they hear today will be very beneficial.

Improving their Memory Skills

Reading to your preemie in the NICU has the interesting effect of improving their memory skills, which will be valuable as they go through life.

Improving their Listening Skills

Sure, your preemie might not be able to talk back at this point when you’re reading to them. Later, however, when they gain that ability, your precious preemie won’t talk back as much because they’ll be great listeners. In other words, they’ll be able to concentrate on what their teachers are saying and listen closely because you read to them while they were in the NICU.

Reading Creates a Strong Parent-Preemie Bond

If bonding with your preemie is the goal, reading to them is the best solution, especially if you can’t hold or touch them yet. Hearing your voice is soothing to a preemie and will enhance and strengthen your relationship down the road.

It Promotes a “Snowball Effect” for the Language Learning to Come

One last significant benefit of reading to your preemie in the NICU is that it creates a sort of snowball effect that, eventually, will be incredibly beneficial. The words and sentences they hear today will go into their memory every time they listen to them, getting bigger and stronger in their memory each time like a snowball rolling down a hill. Eventually, all those words will come pouring back out, jump-starting their ability to talk and express themselves. (And all thanks to the simple act of reading to them out loud while they were still too young to understand what you were saying.)

Last Words

The evidence is in, and it strongly suggests that reading to your precious preemie as early as possible is vital to their future ability to learn, communicate and do well in school. Studies show that exposure to language very early helps increase a preemie’s 3rd-grade reading proficiency. That’s important, as their proficiency at that point is a strong indicator of whether they will graduate high school or not. 

In other words, take the time to read to your preemie in the NICU, even if you can’t touch or hold them yet. The benefits of this simple, easy (and pleasurable) task can be life-changing for your little one and you as well.

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