Bradford Royal Infirmary teams up with local library service to give babies the best start in life with books

Published on: 15 June 2022

Sharing a book with babies in their earliest months supports their brain development, communication skills, helps families bond, and reduces stress according to leading Neonatal Consultant Dr Aishin Lok.  

A newborn baby. Image: CanvaA newborn baby. Image: Canva

Dr Aishin Lok and the team from the Neonatal Unit at Bradford Royal Infirmary have teamed up with Bradford Libraries to get Bookstart Baby packs to the hospital’s youngest patients.  

The books and resources in the Bookstart Baby pack have been specifically designed with the developmental needs of babies and families in mind. Each pack contains two engaging and age-appropriate board books carefully chosen by an independent panel of experts that support a baby’s sensory and motor skills and visual development. The packs also include two colourful finger puppets to bring the stories to life and a fun and informative leaflet for families about the benefits of sharing rhymes and stories with babies from an early age. 

Dr Lok said: “I am really pleased to have been able to continue the Bookstart programme as research shows that reading to babies from a very early age has a very positive effect on their neurodevelopment. This is particularly true in the case of tiny babies who are at a high risk of developmental delay; as a Level 3 neonatal unit here in Bradford, we are looking after some of the sickest babies. 

It can be an incredibly difficult time for families in the Neonatal Unit and the hospital has a 24-hour visiting policy for parents to encourage as much contact with their babies as possible.  

As a unit, we want to promote a positive culture and involve parents in the day-to-day care of their babies, which of course can be difficult when they are separated from each other. Reading to babies is a way of helping parents forge a strong relationship and it also helps to reduce anxiety and stress levels. Reading has a very soothing effect on the babies. 

“For premature babies, hearing their parents’ voices just like they would have experienced in the womb, leads to better physiological signs such as a more stable heart rate and better oxygen saturation. 

“Many of the babies in our neonatal unit are at high risk of developing communication and literacy difficulties in the future so by exposing them to early and positive auditory experiences, we will actually encourage optimal brain development for them.” 

Dr Lok added that she hoped the scheme would encourage good reading habits in the future. She said: “We really hope that parents will continue to read to their babies when they are finally able to take them home. Each book pack contains a leaflet to sign up to Bradford Libraries, where parents are able to access lots of lovely books for free.” 

Susan Brewster-Craig, the Early Years Development Officer for Bradford Libraries said:

“Bradford Libraries are delighted to work with the neo-natal unit at Bradford Royal Infirmary to support parents with premature babies. Reading aloud combines the benefits of talking, listening and storytelling within one activity and helps to build the important foundations for language development and the tools for reading. Bookstart in Bradford, which is overseen by the Library Service, gifts the Baby Pack to around 7,500 babies each year through the generous support of our registrar services. We welcome the opportunity to work with the neo-natal unit too so that we can gift the pack to some of those babies right at the start of their reading journeys. We also hope that this will encourage families to build a relationship with the library and attend story times and rhyme times, borrow books and enjoy all the services their local library has to offer.” 

Following a period of review and focus groups, BookTrust launched a newly refreshed pack that includes two carefully selected board books, two finger puppets and a guidance leaflet with lots of tips and ideas on how to share books, stories and rhymes with babies. Bookstart Baby is BookTrust’s flagship programme designed to encourage families to start reading with their babies as early as possible. BookTrust offers every child in England, Wales and Northern Ireland a free Bookstart Baby pack which is delivered through libraries, health professionals, registrars or other early years professionals.  

Diana Gerald, CEO of BookTrust, said: Sharing stories with babies in their first year is a crucial step in building families’ confidence to read together with their children as they grow up, so they can reap the wide-ranging benefits that reading can bring. For many children, the Bookstart Baby books will be the first books they own and we’re grateful for the support of our local authority and library partners who work creatively and innovatively to ensure children and families can receive the books, resources and support they need to start reading together, even in the most challenging of circumstances. 

It’s fantastic to see Bradford Library Service working closely with their local Neonatal Unit, encouraging families to start reading with their babies and creating opportunities for shared family experiences and memories, just like everyone else at home. 
You can find out more about Bookstart Baby here.  

If you're a health professional, librarian or early years practitioner and have used BookTrust resources in surprising and unexpected ways and would like to share your story, please contact  our Communications Team at [email protected]  

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