Billings parents Tyler and Jamie Brown learned the importance of reading to their newborn twin boys to help boost brain development thanks to the neonatal intensive care unit read-a-thon at St. Vincent Healthcare.
“We were reading beforehand, but we read a little more once the program came out," said Jamie, mother of fraternal twin boys Barrett and Declan on Wednesday.
This is the first year that St. Vincent is participating in the national NICU read-a-thon. The event is a competition with other NICUs where prizes to go parents that read the most to their kids.
"We know the evidence tells us that reading to your infant early and reading to your children early and often is super important. Our goal is hopefully that our preemie babies hear about 30,000 words before three (years old)," said Katie Krivitz, St. V's NICU clinical supervisor.
Declan and Barrett were born prematurely on Aug. 27. Since the read-a-thon began on Sept. 14, the twins have been read to for about a half hour a day. Krivitz said more benefits come to premature babies from reading than just brain development.
"It’s an awesome opportunity. They know mom and dad’s voice. They get to have snuggle time. It’s not only healthy with brain development, also the skin-to-skin time, the snuggling also increases their ability to go home sooner," Krivitz said.
For the parents, the reading time offers a welcome break from the monotony of hospital life and lack of family visitors due to COVID-19 restrictions.
"It's been a long journey, like she said, 27 days. It's about the big difference you get, because it gets pretty routine. You change diapers and they're still pretty young so they need a lot of sleep. Just sleeping most of the time, but we get a little time to hold them and during that time it breaks it up," Tyler said.
Only the mother, father and medical staff are able to come into contact with the NICU babies until they get cleared to go home, Krivitz said.
So far, the go-to book for the Brown family has been "The Very Hungry Caterpillar", by Eric Carle. The parents estimated that they had read about 30 minutes a day to the twins.
“We’re going back to chapter books. We brought in a couple of books too that have a bunch of short stories. That’s nice too. They’re Disney classics and stuff like that that have a little different twist on it. It’s kind of nice. It’s been a long time since I’ve read kids books," Jamie said.
Krivitz has been working for St. Vincent Healthcare for 14 years. She said the read-a-thon boosted the number of pages read in the NICU.
“The second that we rolled this out, every parent was like ‘I want to win.’ We have hundreds of books in the NICU that parents can choose from. Parents are definitely grabbing books. We have seen a huge increase in the amount of books being read to our babies," Krivitz said.
The twins are on the path to be released from the hospital soon, Tyler said. In the beginning of their stay, they were hooked up to IVs and respirators. Now, they're only hooked up to heart monitors and feeding tubes.
"They can’t eat on their own at this point. It’s something we’re looking forward to. We just started feedings on their own a little bit and (doctors) measure that to get away from the feeding tube. Once that’s gone, then it’s homeward bound. We’re looking forward to that. We’ve made a lot of progress so far. Hopefully soon," Tyler said.
When that day does come, both parents said the habit of reading will continue as the twins continue to grow at home.
“This is one of the biggest gifts you can give your kids is to continue to read to them. And it really is life-changing for them as they grow and they go into school and they become adults. The brain definitely appreciates (reading) and develops at a better rate when you have family members that read to you," Krivitz said.