Shared Reading Program Supports Families in NICU and Beyond

Angela Leon-Hernandez, assistant professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine, says Grady’s NICU in Atlanta is focused on opportunities for interventions from the NICU to school to improve behavioral and functional outcomes for babies born prematurely.

Research indicates that babies who are exposed to biological adversity due to prematurity or other medical conditions and require a prolonged NICU stay are at high risk for developmental problems, including speech delay, learning disabilities, and behavioral and emotional difficulties.

“When we evaluate these babies, they have serious problems in terms of coordination, attention, emotional regulation, information processing, and other aspects of development that will affect the way they learn,” said Leon-Hernandez. “If we don’t detect these problems and support their learning, they are going to fail.”

Shared reading programs create increased sense of control, normalcy, intimacy, and a source of comfort for parents—and an increased likelihood of continued shared reading habits for children. Reading aloud has a long-term positive effect on language and social development, early literacy skills, self-regulation, and school readiness.

The “Let’s Read a Book Today!” shared reading program, a partnership between Grady’s NICU and the Atlanta-Fulton County Public Libraries, offers research-based support and encouragement about the benefits of reading and talking with babies and connects families with local libraries to ensure continued access to books.

“We want a more family-centered care approach in the NICU, which is only currently seen for about 30 to 40 percent of NICU babies,” said Leon-Hernandez. “The parent is the most important teacher for their baby, so involvement of the parent is critical.”

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Read the story 103 Days in the NICU—Bonding Through Storytime.