Reading charity Booktrust has given thousands of free children’s books to neonatal wards across England so parents can read to their premature and poorly babies.
Catherine Hamilton’s son Albert had major surgery at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, south-west London, at four days old after being born with a hole in his diaphragm.
She was in shock at seeing her baby so ill and found reading a book to him comforting.
Catherine said: ‘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.’
Booktrust understands that it’s a challenging and overwhelming time for parents who have a baby in newborn intensive care units as they can’t always choose when they hold, cuddle or nurse their child, affecting the way they interact with them. They believe a simple book to read with their baby can help strengthen bonds and create intimacy.
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.’
Mum-of-two, Catherine added: ‘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.’
Booktrust says sharing a book can also help siblings bond with their new brother or sister while also escaping the confusing situation of the hospital. Catherine believes reading 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’.
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.’