Encouraging Parental Reading for High-Risk Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Infants

J Pediatr. 2021 May;232:95-102. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2021.01.003. Epub 2021 Jan 13.


Objective: To assess whether a citywide structured book-sharing program (NICU Bookworms) designed to promote reading to infants while admitted in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) would increase parental reading behaviors (≥3-4 days/week) in the NICU and after discharge home, including high-risk parents who do not themselves enjoy reading.

Study design: The NICU Bookworms program comprised staff training, parent education, and building a literacy-rich environment. In this quasi-experimental intervention study, parents of medically high-risk NICU graduates <6 months of age were administered a questionnaire at their first NICU follow-up clinic visit. The survey incorporated questions from the StimQ-I READ subscale to assess home reading environment and shared reading practices.

Results: A total of 317 infants were enrolled, 187 in an unexposed comparison group and 130 in the intervention group. Parents exposed to Bookworms were significantly more likely to read ≥3-4 days per week while in the NICU (34.5% vs 51.5%; P = .002; aOR, 2.2; 95% CI, 1.2-4.0), but reading at home did not differ (67.9% vs 73.1%; P = .28; aOR, 0.99; 95% CI, 0.5-1.8). However, among parents who did not themselves enjoy reading, frequency was significantly higher both in the NICU (18.4% vs 46.1%; P = .009; aOR, 5.0; 95% CI, 1.2-21.5) and at home (36.9% vs 70%; P = .003; aOR, 3.7; 95% CI, 1.1-12.9). A qualitative thematic analysis found that Bookworms decreased parental stress, enhanced bonding, and supported positive parent-infant interactions.

Conclusions: A book-sharing intervention in the NICU increased parent-reported reading aloud during hospitalization and among parents disinclined to read for pleasure, both in the NICU and following discharge. This change may have been mediated by enhancement of parent-infant interactions.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal*
  • Male
  • Object Attachment
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Parents*
  • Reading*
  • Stress, Psychological / prevention & control
  • Surveys and Questionnaires