By Hannah Echols
Reading to children has been shown to be helpful for their development. Read to newborns and premature babies? It turns out that is also important. Premature and sick newborns are at increased risk for neurodevelopmental deficits, especially in language and reading. This can adversely affect academic performance and subsequent employment.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham and Children’s of Alabama have launched the NICU Bookworms reading program to help reduce developmental deficits and encourage shared reading from birth.
Randall Woodfin; Selwyn Vickers, MD, Dean of UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine; Mitchell Cohen, MD, chair of the UAB Department of Pediatrics; Waldemar Carlo, MD, co-director of the Division of Neonatology; and Viral G. Jain, MD, assistant professor in the Division of Neonatology to celebrate the official launch of the program.
âLiteracy is an essential tool for our young people to learn and grow into successful individuals who positively shape our Birmingham community,â said Woodfin. âThe Bookworms program demonstrates the short and long term health benefits of reading and shows that it is never too early to lay the foundation for literacy development. “
Jain created the program at UAB and Childhood after studying the positive effects of reading aloud on infants in neonatal intensive care units. To accompany the program, Jain has co-authored a children’s book called “Baby Bookworm” that families in the UAB and NICU Children’s Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Level IV and NICU will receive. He also partnered with three-time Grammy Award-winning Zac Brown Band members Coy Bowles and Phil Tan to write “Sweet Little Baby (NICU Lullaby)” to encourage reading for all infants from early childhood. birth.
âShared book reading is a major source of childhood language exposure and a tool for creating parent-child bonds,â Jain said. âEmerging literacy is an important area of ââchild development, given its importance for long-term health outcomes. “
Premature infants do not get the normal hearing exposure they would normally have in the womb. Coupled with the loud noises common in neonatal intensive care units, sick and premature infants lack a significant amount of human sound exposure necessary to help their brains develop during this period of rapid brain growth. These NICU infants have a harder time responding to external stimuli while maintaining the balance of bodily systems, such as keeping their heart rate stable, which can lead to overstimulation and stress.
The NICU book rat guidelines follow the principles of Synactive Theory of Infant Development, a framework for understanding the behavior of preterm and sick infants. The guidelines help caregivers better respond to infant cues and take an active role in their care while using books as a means of bonding. The Bookworms program aims to increase exposure to quality words through books and to establish reading routines with parents to continue at home.
In addition, NICUs are often places of high stress for infants and their parents. In Jain’s study, overwhelmed parents were less likely to hold, feed, and talk to their infants. These types of interactions, while seemingly small, can help soothe infants and improve heart, respiratory, and developmental health. Conversely, parents who read aloud to their infants reported feeling hope, empowerment, reduced stress, and increased parent-child bonding.
âThe first 1,000 days of a child’s life are extremely important,â said Vickers. âLove, reading and stimulation are essential for the well-being of the newborn. I feel privileged to help start this program which will help our NICU infants and their families.
Jain will continue to study the developmental impacts of reading in infants enrolled in UAB and childhood programs. He hopes to expand the program to other neonatal intensive care units in the community, and across the state and country. Community members can support the NICU Bookworms program through monetary and book donations. For more information, please contact [email protected]