The time you spend at their bedside really does make a crucial difference to your baby’s experience and their long-term development. Talking, reading and singing to your baby will comfort and soothe them. It will also help them relax and build their bond with you.
Benefits of reading aloud
- From week 22 of pregnancy your baby can hear in the womb. They can recognise and respond to your voice. Hearing you just as they would if they were still inside will calm and reassure them, and help them feel secure in their new world.
- When you’re not able to hold them, your voice lets them know that you are there.
- The words they hear now will help your baby’s brain and language development in the future. The more words they hear, the better.
There are benefits for parents too. Reading stories or singing lullabies gives you a sense of life beyond the screens and incubators. It’s also a good way to distract yourself, and might help you feel calmer.
Hints and tips
- Don’t worry about other people listening – the unit is busy and no-one is watching!
- Babies like repetition. They will love hearing the same story over again.
- Try longer stories – it can be a long day in the unit and it’s good to try something you’ll enjoy too. It doesn’t matter what you read – it’s your voice your baby is interested in.
- Get brothers and sisters reading too. This gives them an important job to do during a visit and it helps them to bond with their new sibling.
- Watch for your baby’s cues. You’ll know best when they are getting tired and need a break.
- Keep it up when you get home. It’ll still be a special moment to settle down and enjoy being together.
Jack and the FlumFlum Tree
When their twin boys were born prematurely, David and Gemma Springford spent over eight weeks in a neonatal unit. Reading books to their babies helped them to bond with their boys and formed some of their most special memories as a family. Jack and the FlumFlum Tree was a particular family favourite and Dave and Gemma have donated a copy of this book to babies in neonatal units across Scotland, in partnership with Scottish Book Trust. Find out more about their experience and how they feel reading in the unit helped them in this film.
Full video transcript
I’m Nashwa Matta, I’m a Paediatrician in Glasgow. I’m a Neonatologist which means I work in intensive care with very sick babies and my interest is their development - child development.
The benefits of reading and singing to very young babies, even when they are sick and in intensive care, is very important. The baby recognises the parents’ voice, and they have a preference for the parents’ voice – it calms them, it helps bring growth, and when the parents are reading to their baby, especially when you have rhyme and you have tone, it just calms the baby because it’s like a conversation.
For longer term development, I have been following these babies up for 18 years and it was so obvious to me that if the mother was next to the mother, reading to the baby, I know that even if they had a rough medical start, that there is a difference in their development. Now we have a lot of papers to prove this - that early intervention, that mother voice, we know the effect of the environment on the brain, the plasticity of the brain, makes a difference to this child’s brain growth.
If you are not confident about sharing your stories with a baby remember that nobody, or no voice has the same effect as your voice on your baby; it is so important. Look in their eyes, understand their cues, touch them and see how they relax when you are there. There are certain things that they tell us ‘I’ve had enough’, for example, if they start having hiccups or yawning if they are handled, they might just say ‘leave me alone’ – or put their hands up or arch their back or look away, they’re saying ‘I’ve had enough’. If they just look at you – and a baby who is born at term has a focal distance of 10 to 12 inches – if they look at you and you feel their body relax, and have their hands like this (closed to chest) or to their mouth, you know they are relaxed.
I want you to understand that your baby’s unique and you are one unit with your baby. No medical equipment and no medical staff or nursing staff would know the baby more than you do. So I want you to understand your baby, the language and be empowered to build this relationship and when you go home, you carry on knowing your baby and building this relationship.