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The Benefits of Reading to NICU Babies

Reading to babies

The experience of spending time in a Neonatal Unit can be overwhelming.

And while no experience is the same, there are a number of parallels. 


Reading in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

Finding yourself in a Neonatal Unit is often a shock. Especially if you are not prepared for the arrival of a premature or sick baby.

As well as feeling overwhelmed, it is common to feel helpless while your baby is cared for by medical professionals. These feelings are totally normal, and those of us have been in this position, we understand entirely.

At the Simpson Neonatal Unit, parents are encouraged to be as involved in the care of their baby as possible, including skin-to-skin, also known as kangaroo care. While there is no feeling like holding your baby, often this isn’t possible for a number of reasons during the early stages of care. 

Spending long hours by the side of an incubator, particularly without touch, can be difficult. However, reading is something that is not only incredibly powerful for a baby, but for parents too. 


The benefits of reading

From 22 weeks a baby can hear in the womb. They can recognise and respond to your voice.


When babies aren’t able to feel the physical comfort of touch, a parents’ voice can do miraculous things and they will feel reassured by the presence. 

Reading to your baby in the unit, at a time when you may not be able to hold them, can have the same effect. In addition, it can help with:

  • Supporting the bond between parent and child

  • Decreasing stress levels

  • Acting as a distraction from the worries and practical matters of the daily care of your baby 

  • Calming your baby and helping them become familiar with your voice


Many of our parents have also said that reading helped soothe their babies and gave them a sense of control in the unit.

Rosie Nicol

staff nurse at the Simpson Neonatal Unit




“Over the years in NNU, I've heard so many beautiful stories read to babies. As a staff nurse, it's one of the many beautiful memories you can be a part of. You can tell some parents can be anxious or embarrassed at first, but they don’t need to be.


Reading to your baby helps form that amazing bond between baby and parent. It helps to calm, reduce heart rates, stabilise oxygenation and can reduce the amount of alarms they have – not just for period during the story, but for some time after. Just to hear your voice can have such a positive physiological and emotional impact on your child.


In a world of disorder and sometimes chaos, there's beauty in the calmness of a story. Where parents can sometimes feel helpless, the power of a story routine can help remind them of the power and bond they have as a parent with their baby. Just some little words on a page can mean so much in the world of neonates.”

Shared parent experiences


I remember calling my mum frantically and asking her to bring in some books as we didn’t have any in the unit. Reading to the boys far exceeded our expectations in the support it brought us as parents, but also the comfort it gave our boys hearing our voices. It felt a bit alien at first, reading aloud, but we quickly got used to it.

Gemma, mum of Jack & Ryan

Support by Read for Good

A massive thank you to Cherry and the team at Read for Good for their kind donation of books for the unit.


We understand how important reading can be to families in the unit to help them bond with their baby. Sadly as a result of Covid the unit has not been able to offer its normal library service.


We will therefore be working with the nursing staff to distribute these books to families in need until such time that they can reopen the library.

Learn more about Read for Good.


Support Us

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