Caregivers from the NICU team who led the “books for babies” program at Providence Portland hold favorite books. Back row from left, Tara Graham; Barbara Gillespie, RN; Laurie Rivera; and Deanna Fulcher, RN. Front row, from left: Leah Stein, RN; Michelle Stanley, RN; and Heather Gemmer, RN
In a world of alarms and flashing monitors, Dr. Seuss brings a little normalcy to the neonatal intensive care unit.
This story starts in summer when our NICU at Providence Portland Medical Center was challenged to compete in the 2021 Babies With Books Read-a-thon, an international competition inspired by a teen-led literacy organization. Reading aloud with babies beginning in the NICU supports infant brain development, promotes family bonding, and reduces stress
Barbara Gillespie, RN, stepped up to the challenge, educating and engaging the unit caregivers. Posters and fliers went up throughout the NICU sharing the project with families.
The NICU nurse approached the Providence Portland Medical Foundation and secured a grant to purchase a mini-library of baby favorites, everything from Green Eggs and Ham to Goodnight Moon.
Over the course of the competition, nurses read to tiny infants in the quiet of the night, moms and dads cuddled with their tiny infants reciting favorite books of their own childhoods, and even a few grandmas got into the action, sharing a story over Facetime.
Reading to their babies gave parents a sense of normalcy and eased the worries that often accompany new parents in the NICU. Each week, the minutes of reading were charted and the baby who was read to the most received a small gift basket.
During the read-a-thon, each family chose a book a week from the little library cart to read and keep – to build the baby’s own library at home.
Barbara explained this is really the goal – creating a family tradition of reading at an early age. “Reading is very important for early literacy and it helps with speech development, helps with neurodevelopment of brain and it also helps with bonding with parents,” said Barbara.
The reading also proved to help the babies physically, as well.
“The babies actually had fewer spells during the time they were read to – their heart rates and saturations didn’t drop, and the monitors didn’t go off as frequently when the babies were held and read to by their parents or nurses.”
At the end of the competition, after all the data was submitted and the results tallied, it turns out Providence Portland’s NICU placed second in the world – second among 101 NICUs. That’s a lot of love of reading!
“Our goal is to provide books in native languages. If the parents can’t read and write, and we do have some, our goal is to provide picture books so they can make up stories and read to their baby,” said Barbara.
You can help the next generation of readers get started by donating to the foundation book fund. After all, these little ones have places to go…with a little help from you.
“You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!”