The first gift my preemie ever received was a book. A brand, new, book. It had been placed in a drawer next to his isolette. It didn’t really matter what book it was. What mattered is that it was there waiting for him. And for me and his dad.
Thanks to the phenomenal work of a special mom and her immense family of volunteers at Project Cameron’s Story, every baby that is admitted to my local hospital’s NICU is given a brand new book to keep. Why? some of you may ask. Well, when you read to preemies, two amazing things happen:
First, and simply put, you are helping to boost their brain development. While in the NICU, we are so focused on keeping our preemies physically nourished, that we may neglect to do the one thing that will help to feed their brain! You may not be able to see any tangible evidence right away of how your preemie is benefiting from being read to, but she is benefiting greatly! More and more research is proving that the earlier you start reading to babies, and the more you do it, the better off they will be when they start kindergarten. Preemies, especially, need to be read to early, and often. Aim for at least 15-minutes a day. A few minutes at a time throughout the day can add up quick!
With that first book, I began reading to my 29-weeker every day. And now at the age of 3, he can identify many shapes and colors. He also can count to 100, knows the whole alphabet, and is just beginning to recognize three-letter words. I hope you will please excuse my bragging, but this is the very same preemie who scores in the average/below average range on cognitive tests and has been diagnosed with a global developmental delay. You bet this mama is going to brag!
The second amazing, and most important, thing that happens when you read to your preemie is you are bonding with her! Even when you cannot hold her, or even touch her, at least you are able to do this for her. I was not able to hold my preemie until he was 1-week old, so for that first week, all his dad and I could do to bond with him was read to him. We read anything and everything to him. Until babies are old enough to actually see what you are reading to them, you can even get away with reading the latest Neil Gaiman aloud to them if you want. (And, believe me, take advantage of that while you can. Before you know it, you will be able to recite every line of Little Blue Truck because you have read it at least 10 times a day for two weeks straight!) Also, and equally as important, it can be a great stress reliever for you to be able to read something you enjoy. Once you all are home, then you can start to read more child-friendly books. Some of my family’s favorites are:
Any book written and/or illustrated by Eric Carle. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? has been a favorite all along. (We actually like to sing it to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”)
Books by Sandra Boynton, Karen Katz, Kevin Henkes, and Byron Barton are all great choices to read to babies because of their big, bright illustrations and simple, rhyming text.
Feel free to share what books you and your preemie like to read together!