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Publication #FAR0441

Reading Aloud to Premature or Sick Babies1

Carol Church2

Figure 1. 
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Giving birth to a premature or sick infant can be extraordinarily stressful. Moms and dads who have imagined a picture-perfect homegoing with a healthy baby instead find themselves in a neonatal intensive care unit, surrounded by nurses, constantly beeping machines, and an endless stream of wires. Often, they cannot even hold their child.

Researchers and medical personnel continue to look for ways to help families cope with this traumatic experience. One recent study focused on encouraging a simple but profound act: reading aloud to the baby.

Parents in the study were given specially selected books and encouraged to regularly read aloud to their hospitalized newborns. The books were also sent home with them at discharge. Three months later, parents completed questionnaires. Eighty-six percent said that reading to their infants in the NICU had been enjoyable, and sixty-nine percent said it helped them feel closer to their babies. Parents also reported that reading gave them a feeling of control over the situation and created a sense of normalcy. Those who had participated were also three times more likely to engage in reading aloud to their 3-month-olds than a control group (Lariviere & Rennick, 2010).

Given the well-known importance of reading to children and the emotional demands of parenting a premature or sick baby, this study is encouraging. Even in the intensely stressful environment of the NICU, it seems the comforting act of sharing a story can bring a multitude of benefits.

Listening, learning and living together, it’s the science of life. “Family Album” is a co-production of University of Florida IFAS Extension, the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences and of WUFT-FM.  If you’d like to learn more, please visit our website at

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Lariviere, J., and Rennick, J. E. (2010). Parent picture-book reading in the neonatal intensive care unit as an intervention supporting parent-infant interaction and later book-reading. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1097/DBP.0b013e318203e3a1.



This document is FAR0441, one of a series of the Department of Family Youth and Community Sciences, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original broadcast date January 2011, as program 1576. Published on EDIS May 2013. In the interest of time and/or clarity, the broadcast version of this script may have been modified. Visit the EDIS website at


Carol Church, writer, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.