First in the Nation
The Littlest Reader Project Promotes Literacy for a Lifetime Through
NICU Families Northwest is the first organization in the US to provide beautiful, hardcover children’s books to NICU families during their hospital stay, free of charge, in order to promote parent-baby bonding and build foundational family literacy habits.
Since 2015, The Littlest Reader Project has been creating opportunities for parents to connect with their baby when medical necessity prevents, postpones, or compromises parent involvement in routine cares or kangaroo-care. The gift of a book encourages families to bond from day one, aids low-income families with little to no access to reading materials, and promotes foundational family literacy habits that can help with baby’s development long after discharge. When babies need additional rest to recover from the stress of surgery or even basic procedures such as IV placement, blood transfusions, vision or hearing tests, reading aloud allows parents to be present with their child and in a meaningful, compassionate way.
Establishing a parent practice of regular reading aloud to baby helps support early language development and creates time and space for family bonding. Each book comes assembled with a commemorative book plate and bookmark. The bookmark describes The Littlest Reader Project, provides a short introduction to NICU Families Northwest, includes our contact information, and also a list of project sponsors.
Baby Ava’s Papa reads to her from one of the four titles made available in 2018 to NICU families by The Littlest Reader Project.
Research on Reading to Infants in the NICU
We knew from firsthand experience that reading to NICU babies was beneficial to parents and their infants.
It's makes a tremendous difference to our Partner Hospitals to know that there's solid evidence
from industry leaders supporting the value of programs like The Littlest Reader Project.
UVA School of Nursing Shows Reading to Babies in the NICU Has Significant Positive Impact for Parents and Babies
In providing books for families through a program similar to NICU Families Northwest’s The Littlest Reader Project, researcher Susan Almarode saw a dramatic reduction of postpartum depression in NICU moms. Almarode, a veteran neonatal nurse practitioner and student in the Doctor of Nursing Practice program saw rates of depression drop from 53.4 percent of participating moms to only 15.4 percent after just four weeks of the reading intervention. Nearly 93 percent of participants agreed that reading made them feel closer to their babies, and 100 percent of participants said they planned to read to their babies after being discharged from the hospital.
Establishing Foundational Family Literacy Habits Beginning in the NICU
In 2011 the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics released information on a study supporting the use of parent book-reading as an effective intervention to enhance bonding in the NICU and promote healthy habits in support of early literacy. As part of the study, participants answered questionnaires three months after their infant’s discharge, showing 69% of participant parents felt that reading helped them feel closer to their baby, 86% reported it was enjoyable, and parents described an increased sense of control and normalcy and increased intimacy with their infant. Twice as many parents from the intervention group (in contrast with the control group) reported reading three or more times a week to their infants.
Bedside Reading Improves Cardiorespiratory Stability in NICU Babies
A study in the August 2018 Journal of Perinatology asserts that the benefits of parental bedside reading go far beyond allowing parents to participate in the care of their preterm infants. The study shows a measurable correlation between bedside reading and infant cardiorespiratory stability, specifically episodes of blood oxygen desaturation below 85 percent. Within the group of eighteen preterm infants (born at 23–31wks gestation, and 8 to 56 days old), the babies showed fewer incidents of desaturation below 85 percent (than prior to the voice exposure) during parental bedside reading and for up to an hour after.