A family of four, including a baby with tubes in his nose.

Dad takes advantage of multiple reading benefits for his premature babies

Any parent who has had a premature or sick baby knows the feeling of helplessness while their baby is locked up in a crib or plugged into machines.

In addition to helping calm children, research shows that reading stories aloud can boost brain development, and experts say it can benefit parents too.

The Little Readers Read-a-thon program is helping encourage parents to read to their newborns in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) internationally this month, including 41 Australian hospitals.

Matt and Jessica Bialkowski’s daughter Lara spent 98 days in a Brisbane NICU three years ago after she was born at 25 weeks.

But two years after Lara’s discharge, they found themselves in the same unit.

“Cooper was born in February at 26 weeks and spent 104 days in NICU,” said Bialkowski.

“So, quite a long time in NICU for both our babies and our family.”

Long days and nights in the NICU
Matt and Jessica Bialkowski found that reading to their babies had many benefits over many long days and nights in a Brisbane NICU.(Featuring: Matt Bialkowski)

Aside from the anxiety and emotional struggles while Lara was stewed and plugged into the oxygen pipes, Mr. Bialkowski said he felt helpless and didn’t know how to contribute.

“One of the biggest challenges I found as a dad in the NICU is that I didn’t feel like I had a role to play,” she said.

When a nurse suggested taking a book and reading to her daughter, she found a purpose.

“It gave me something to go in and really focus on and know it was mine and that I could own it,” she said.

“I read for nearly 100 hours while I was in ICU with Lara.

“I didn’t keep a log with Cooper, but I still read every day that I’ve been there for at least 20 minutes.”

Early reading has a lasting impact

Clinical nurse consultant at the Grace Center for Newborn Intensive Care, Alyssa Fraser, said babies benefit from being exposed to language from an early age.

“Babies recognize their parents’ voices by hearing them in the womb, so reading can be a positive and relaxing sound for the baby in a noisy environment like the NICU,” said Ms. Fraser.

She also said that participating in a reading program can also help parents struggle with feelings of isolation and helplessness.

“It offers parents the opportunity to bond with their child in an environment that can make them feel a little lost or unsure of what their role is,” she said.

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