BookTrust gifts books to neonatal units

Published on: 10 August 2014 Author: Bookstart Team

We've been gifting thousands of free children's books to neonatal wards across England so that parents can read to their premature and poorly babies.

We understand that it's challenging and overwhelming for parents to have their newborn baby in an intensive care unit, as they can't always choose when they hold, cuddle or nurse their child.

We believe that something as simple as reading a book to their baby can help families strengthen bonds and create intimacy.

One mum, who gave birth seven weeks early after major heart surgery, was particularly pleased to receive a copy of Super Duck by Jez Alborough. Kayele Clifton spends lots of time talking and reading to Archie in order to help him get used to her voice during his long stay on Saint Mary's newborn intensive care unit (NICU), in Manchester. Kayele explained:

'On the ward with all the different equipment, monitors and people I worry that Archie won't recognise my voice...'

Catherine Hamilton, whose son had major surgery at four days old in St George's Hospital, Tooting, was in shock at seeing her baby so ill and found reading a book to him comforting:

'Reading stories to your baby is something you can understand. It's a shock to see your baby so ill, you can't really parent like you expected to, so reading is a familiar comfort.
At first I felt a bit self-conscious, as if the nurses or doctors might be listening and think I was being silly, but actually they encourage it. It's easy to feel a bit helpless when your baby is so ill, reading was pretty much the only thing I felt I could do.'

Family support worker on Manchester's NICU, Sue McGaskill says:

'We often encourage parents to talk, read or sing to their babies. Some can be unsure because there are so many people around but by giving them a book it almost gives them permission.'

We also think that sharing a book can help siblings bond with their new brother or sister while escaping the confusing situation of the hospital. Ms Hamilton believes reading HarperCollins' Super Duck to daughter Cecily and her new brother Albert in the hospital 'helped her daughter massively'. She said:

'When we sat and read to him Cecily loved it. I think it was something she could understand too, whereas the wires and alarms going off wasn't. It helped her bond with him a lot.'

Research indicates that reading to and sharing books with babies helps emotional bonding and promotes strong and loving relationships and secure attachment. Daily reading can also help with establishing a 'calming routine'. According to a 2011 study in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, encouraging parents to talk to their babies can help promote closeness, but the stress of the NICU can make this difficult. Reading from a book, on the other hand, helps parents feel close to their babies. It also helps parents feel more in control of their situation and promotes future reading.

Booktrust's Chief Executive, Viv Bird, said:

'We are delighted that through our gift of children's books we have helped parents strengthen their bond with their baby while going through a difficult and stressful time.

Books can make a big difference to people's lives, and sharing books is a good way for families to take time out and relax.'

We would like to thank everyone for making time to speak with us and we send our very best wishes to all families and staff in neonatal units.

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