Prematurely-born babies are improving their language literacy with the help of their parents and hospital volunteers as they wait to go home from the hospital.

After the volunteer waitlist for a baby cuddling program skyrocketed with names, Karen Netzel, NICU Family Support Coordinator, dreamed up a new way to help parents and babies connect while being cared for at the Health Sciences Centre.

The NICU reading program is still new, but parents and staff members are seeing the benefits in their infants almost immediately. 

"It is very soothing for the baby to hear their parents' voices," Netzel says.


Netzel herself is a former NICU parent and acknowledges how difficult that can be.

"When you are a first-time parent you do not always know what to say (to your child)," Netzel says. "With this reading program, we are putting the words in their hands."

The books being read are selected to help encourage language literacy. Instead of using baby books, stories will full sentences are chosen to familiarize infants with language.

The hospital's librarian recommends books to volunteers and parents, but parents can bring in books of their own to read. The library holds books in many languages, and if a family speaks more than one, they are encouraged to read to their infants in all of the languages spoken at home.

"It (is) a way to encourage parents to bond with their children," Netzel says.

volunteer reader

Netzel started to program at the Health Sciences Centre to help volunteers on waiting lists connect with the infants.

"We have volunteers who actually wanted to be baby cuddlers," Netzel explains. The program allows the volunteers to read to infants as they wait to become baby cuddlers. The reading program currently has close to ten volunteers but is looking for more.

The predecessor baby-cuddling program has a long waitlist, but Netzel is still looking for volunteers to read in the evenings and on weekends. She hopes that parents of former NICU infants will come back to volunteer.

parent volunteer