Finding yourself with a sick newborn is an overwhelming and emotional time. If your new baby needs to go to the Special Care Nursery (SCN) or Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) many of the characteristics of a ‘normal’ experience are suddenly taken away.
The cuddles, doting visitors and first photos are replaced with machines, specialists and fear.
Reading to infants in the NICU or SCN is a gentle activity that parents can do. But more than just something to pass the time, there are numerous benefits for both the baby and parents.
The bonding that happens between a parent and child in the first few days and weeks of life is critical for a baby’s development. This is no different for sick or premature babies. But when a baby needs medical care, the usual opportunities for bonding – such as feeding or cuddling – may be reduced.
Reading to you baby creates a loving and safe environment that enables them to learn their parent’s voices and feel a connection to them. For the parents, it’s an opportunity to enjoy some precious moments of intimacy that they may otherwise be missing out on.
When you read to a baby, critical brain development occurs. In order for babies to optimally develop language skills they need to be exposed to regular and meaningful auditory experiences. Studies have found that not exposing babies to language while in hospital can hinder their future abilities.
Reading aloud to children is also linked to greater literacy and empathy in later life. In fact, increasing research shows that one of the best indicators for future success is being an engaged reader. And the best way to raise a reader is to foster a love of reading as early as possible.
Enjoyable for parents
What parent doesn’t enjoy reading books to their kids? It’s no different for parents of sick or premature babies. Storytelling gives NICU/SCN parents a few moments where they can put aside their worries. Rather than feeling helpless in a world that is so out of their control, they can sit with their child and get lost in a beautiful book. In turn, this increased sense of intimacy, control and normalcy can reduce stress in parents. So simple and powerful.
So, where to start? We have picked six of our favourite Aussie books to read aloud to NICU/SCN babies. These books are lyrical, dreamy and gentle, and can continue to be loved when you get home and your baby grows.
By Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury
Children and adults alike love this classic book. It celebrates babies around the world and perfectly encapsulates the pure joy that their presence brings.
Its simple rhyme and upbeat tone make it easy to read, and provide lots of opportunities to reach out and touch your little one’s fingers and toes.
“And this little baby,
as everyone knows,
has ten little fingers,
and ten little toes.”
By Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys
This book will wrap you and your baby up in a bubble of unconditional love and warmth. The story reminds that whenever a child faces a challenge, be it big or small, that they are always under a big umbrella that covers them with love and comfort.
“In every weather, it’s us together,
My love for you goes on forever,
Be still, breathe deep,
Wherever you sleep,
You’re under my love umbrella.”
By Margaret Connolly (editor) and Natalie Jane Prior (editor)
This collection of children’s poetry by some of Australia’s best loved authors explore the everyday themes that touch a child’s life, such as family, imagination, food and nature. They are of varying length and tone so you can pick the best one to match the day you are having.
“A boat of stars came down tonight
and sailed around my bed –
it sprinkled stardust on my eyes,
put dreams inside my head.”
By Jasmine Seymour
This beautiful book is about an Aboriginal smoking ceremony that welcomes a new baby to country.
Gently told, this story explains how the smoking ritual protects the baby and connects them with their rich culture.
“Warm smoke from the fire on your mouth.
Keep our language on your tongue.”
By Alison Lester
This exploration of a parent’s wishes for their child is written like a whispered lullaby. The story and illustrations have a peaceful tone that guide the reader through the simple pleasures in life and of a child’s world.
“May you, my baby,
sleep softly at night,
and when dawn lights the world,
may you wake up to birdsong.”
By Kezia Brett and Martina Heiduczek
This story follows a sick baby, Grace, and her journey to recovery. It celebrates the coming together of a community when a baby is born, and how their love, hopes and dreams support Grace to recover and return home. A book about family, love and hope.
“The rolling oceans cradled you.
Carrying, carrying, carrying.
Carrying you through troublesome tides.”