The first tumultuous days in the neonatal intensive care unit can be incredibly hard on parents of preemies. Their natural instinct is to care for and protect their new sons and daughters, but there may not be anything for them to actually do. And when a preemie’s condition doesn’t allow for much physical contact, if any at all, moms and dads may wonder if they’ve missed their opportunity to bond with their babies.
Perhaps you’ve felt this same powerlessness as you’ve sat at your preemie’s bedside.
As we’ve said before, though, bonding is a process – not a single moment in time that can be passed over. As difficult as watching a preemie in the NICU can be for you as a parent, there are always opportunities to bond if you know where to look. One way you can both bond with your preemie and encourage their future cognitive development is to read to him or her.
Studies have shown that reading to preemies is not only good for babies, but also good for parents of preemies, too. Research conducted by the McGill University Health Centre and other groups showed that moms and dads who read books to their preemies felt more closely bonded to their babies and were much more likely to continue reading to those preemies once they left the hospital behind. And for the preemies themselves, a parents’ voice was not only incredibly soothing, but also had a positive influence on (as seen in that and other studies) weight gain, discharge dates, future language development and literacy.
At the very least, reading to preemies in the NICU gives parents something constructive to do when it can seem like there is nothing they can do to care for or comfort their babies. In the midst of medical equipment and the busyness of the hospital, a simple picture book can become an oasis for families. And really, it doesn’t have to be a picture book or a children’s book at all. Just reading out loud to your preemie will give you a way to bond when it feels like the whole world is conspiring against your closeness.
You may not be able to nurse your preemie or even touch them right now, but you can give them the gift of your presence and your voice. With every book you read, you’ll strengthen your bond until the day you can hold your baby in your arms.