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Reading to the tiniest patients sharpens language, accelerates bonding

The neonatal intensive care unit reading program is good for babies, parents, and their hospital clinicians. Pictured, Neonatal ICU Assistant Nurse Manager Sara Sarvi, RN, reads to a baby during an international read-a-thon at the Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara Medical Center in the fall.

A stay in the neonatal intensive care unit can be an extremely stressful time for babies and their families, but a reading program at the Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara Medical Center is helping offset some of the turbulence a hospital stay can cause.

“The reading supports brain growth of our premature babies, increases bonding between parent and the baby, and helps reduce stress for the families,” said Neonatal ICU Manager Jennifer Padilla.

Science supports reading

Now in its third year, the staff at the Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara Medical Center offer parents a reading packet on admission and encouragement to read to their hospitalized children whenever they can. Nurses and staff also read to the babies daily.

This past September, the hospital won the Babies with Books international read-a-thon competition against 192 hospitals worldwide with an average of 12.65 reading sessions per baby over 7 days when the ICU was caring for about 13 infants daily. Santa Clara nurses, leaders, and parents recorded 1,151 reading sessions over that week.

 

Susan Osello, RN, reads to a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit last year.

The program is backed by studies showing that reading to premature babies in the ICU is beneficial, especially for language development and parental bonding.

“Our staff have taken the empirical evidence around developmental needs of babies in the intensive care setting and integrated that with our nursing theory of Caring Science to create a reading program that meets the holistic needs of our babies and their families,” said Santa Clara Chief Nurse Executive Stacy Alves.

Positive for nurses, too

Alves noted that reading to babies in the intensive care unit also helps nurses relax in an environment that can be intense.

“It helps me connect to the babies and calms the baby when I read to them,” said Ying Chun (Pinkie) Chen, RN a nurse in the Santa Clara neonatal ICU. “We get the parents engaged with reading right away when their children are admitted. It relaxes them, and it’s something they feel like they can do, so they don’t feel helpless.”

Neonatal ICU Assistant Nurse Manager Sara Sarvi echoed the sentiment that the reading program is positive for everyone.

“It brightens up our day,” said Sarvi. “Some days can be a little tough here, but being able to take a moment and slow down and cuddle with the kiddos reassures us they are going to make it, and they are going to be off to a good start.”

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