Juan Pinto reads to baby Andrea Sofia in the NICU.

Story Time Promotes Bonding for the Littlest Babies

By on 09/09/2022

For many new parents with premature babies, the excitement of parenthood can feel dampened and delayed. They often feel helpless while they wait for their child to mature enough to come home from the hospital.

The babies, too, can miss out on the stimulation that awaits them when they leave the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and join the outside world.

Two years ago, Sharon Sauer, MSN RNC, and Heather Coughenour, BSN RN, were inspired by similar projects elsewhere to launch a program at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia aimed at easing that situation.

Relationships and Language Exposure

Tiny Bookworms is designed to help parents regain a sense of control and build a relationship with their newborn by encouraging them to read to their babies during their stay in the NICU.

Tiny Bookworms has placed library carts at both ends of the NICU floors, giving parents something to do with their baby that is more than just holding them.

“We had a lot of support within the institution,” Sauer says. After receiving approval from Einstein’s Evidence-Based Research Council, the program was “up and running in like a month” with boxes and boxes of donated books.

The program isn’t just aimed at helping the parents. It is also designed to boost exposure to voices and language for premature babies. Oftentimes in the NICU, these babies are surrounded by alarms and the sound of beeping monitors.

According to Maryann Malloy, DNP, Nurse Manager of the NICU, language exposure at an early age is important for helping babies get used to hearing and recognizing new words.

Dr. Malloy also says that “parents having something constructive to do while sitting by their baby’s bedside, like reading, is really effective for bonding.”

Popular With Parents

For some parents, the program has helped them feel like they’ve got a head start on the learning process.

Ana Cuero and Juan Pinto, for example, are new parents who believe that reading to their daughter, Andrea Sofia, at such a young age will encourage a love for reading and writing in the long run.

Pinto also says that the program helped “distract us from the NICU itself. It forces us to focus on the reading, on the stories and, of course, on the baby.”

Parental participation has remained above 50% for the last two years, and new books are added to the library constantly.

In hopes that other hospitals might want to replicate it, Sauer and Coughenour did a presentation about the program last year to the National Neonatal, Advanced Practice, and Mother Baby Nurses Conferences.

Donations from Einstein’s nursing education department were used to purchase carts. Some nurses also have used their own money to help fund the program, ensuring that books of different languages and reading levels are provided.

“We always tell our parents up front that it’s all about language exposure,” Coughenour says. “They can make up their own stories, they can read a magazine. Whatever they want to read, they can.”

Keeping Safe, Maybe Expanding

Although the program emphasizes parents’ participation and bonding, the nurses also watched out for any risk of infections. They focused on MRSA, a drug-resistant staph infection that sometimes spreads in hospitals.

“Over the two fiscal years since we started this project, we didn’t have any infections,” Sauer says.

Coughenour hopes to push Tiny Bookworms even further, one day, by raising more money to let every family take one of the books home upon discharge.

“We had a mom who, every day, came in and read this one book to the baby,” Coughenour says. “On the day of discharge, I told her to take it with her, and she was beyond happy.

“I would love to see this all go further where every baby could take a book. Maybe a parent would love to read to their kid but they don’t have any books at home. Maybe they can’t afford any. Whatever the case may be, at least they could have this one.”

If you wish to support this program, you can donate to Einstein Healthcare Network and designate the gift for Tiny Bookworms.

Photo caption: Juan Pinto reads to baby Andrea Sofia in the NICU.

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