There are tons of benefits of reading from birth onward: it forms social skills in infants, reinforces a child's understanding of how to pronounce and enunciate words and encourages children to read on their own. But the benefits of reading aloud extend beyond what we've realized. New findings suggest that reading to infants can help new moms dealing with depression, too.
Susan Almarode, a student at the University of Virginia School of Nursing's Doctor of Nursing Practice program discovered that reading to infants—particularly those in neonatal intensive care units (NICU)—can help maternal depression and stress.
According to her research, approximately 40% of mothers with babies in the NICU suffer from postpartum depression, compared to about 12% of American mothers in general. Which makes complete sense considering how stress can heighten to unimaginable levels when your new baby needs NICU care.
For four weeks, Almarode studied 13 mothers of NICU babies who read to their children for at least 30 minutes, three times a week. Her exact findings? Reading to babies reduced moms' rates of postpartum depression and stress, improved their perceived ability to bond with their children, and increased the infants' blood-oxygen saturation during reading sessions and in the 30 minutes after.
According to Noise Health, an interdisciplinary international journal, environmental noise is associated with negative developmental outcomes for infants treated in NICUs, but the existing noise level recommendations are outdated. And given Almarode's newest research, noise levels need to be re-evaluated, particularly if it can benefit a depressed new mom.
If reading to babies strengthens their bond with parents and reduces the stress of being in the NICU for moms, it seems that reading programs in the NICU should absolutely be encouraged, especially if it decreases postpartum depression.
A new baby may not understand the story their mama is telling, but they will understand that they are loved.
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