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Free book scheme inspired by research that parental reading aids premature babies

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An innovative new programme has been launched at a Kent hospital that encourages families to read to their premature babies while in neonatal intensive care to improve their cognitive functions.

Medway NHS Foundation Trust staff said they were inspired by research showing that premature babies exposed to more reading or conversation had significantly better language and communications skills at 18 months of age than others.

“We are encouraging families to read to their babies as much as possible”

Helen McElroy

The rhythmic voice of parents was found to reduce the heart rate of premature babies to a steadier beat, giving comfort and security to newborns in incubators. In addition, babies have also been found to mimic the voices of their parents to a far greater extent than those of staff.

Meanwhile, they staff on the trust’s Oliver Fisher Neonatal Intensive Care Unit noted that reading was also known to help parents comfort their baby through voice, as many premature babies are too sensitive to hold and touch.

The trust ran a three-month survey before launching its ‘Books for Babies’ programme and found that only one in every 50 families on the unit reads to their baby.

It is hoped that free books provided by the scheme will encourage every parent to spend time reading to their baby while on the unit. The programme is funded by the Oliver Fisher Special Care Baby Trust. 

Dr Helen McElroy, consultant neonatologist and charity trustee, said: “We are encouraging families to read to their babies as much as possible on the neonatal intensive care unit with the aim that reading continues within the family home.

“We hope that the ‘Books for Babies’ programme will become a normal part of care in neonatal intensive care units across the country,” she added.

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