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Nurtured in the NICU: Early Literacy Through the Welcome Baby Program

Updated: Mar 6, 2020

By Francis La Rosa

Do you remember when you were a child and your parents would read books to you even when you didn’t quite understand? You remember the soothing and calming voice of your parents that would slowly put you to sleep.

For families who spend time at the NICU, it can be a very difficult journey and it is easy to overlook the fact they can be reading aloud to their baby. Many parents of premature babies don’t realize the power of reading to their baby. “When a baby is in the NICU, immediate concerns are not about reading and in the early days it doesn’t seem to be the obvious thing to do”, says Tamsin Shute, of the Edmonton Public Library.

While reading out loud to babies is often overlooked, studies have

shown this simple task to have tremendous impact on the lives of premature babies. One concern that researchers have studied is that babies born prematurely do not receive the same exposure for brain development as they would had they still been inside their mother’s tummy. Amber Reichert, a researcher from the Canadian Neonatal Network, says studies reveal that babies can hear in the NICU, but it is not the same experience with conversations they would hear while still in the womb.

Tamsin, a youth services librarian from Edmonton Public Library, understands the importance of early literacy and offers family services with targeted programs to support families. One way to promote early literacy is to begin reading to babies very early on.

The Library’s Welcome Baby Program was created with the objective to reach all families and promote the importance of early literacy. The program supports babies and families by providing families that come in with babies born from 0-36 months with a welcome package, which includes several storybook titles to choose from and a song and rhyme booklet.

Through the process of people coming in the library, Edmonton Public Library realized it was not reaching their objective of giving all children across Edmonton the package.

As a result, in 2018, Tamsin and Dr. Reichert from Alberta Health Services teamed up to advocate for early literacy with the introduction of the Welcome Baby Program to Stollery Children’s Hospital and the Royal Alexandra Hospital NICUs. This was made possible by teaming up with the public health centre, who helps deliver the packages. Whenever an infant attends the clinic during the two-month immunization period they would receive a package from the library. Similarly, babies in the NICU receive their immunizations and welcome packages while in the NICU.

With the help of Dr. Reichert and Tamsin, babies in the NICU in Edmonton now also receive the package. The program has expanded to Misericordia Community Hospital and Grey Nuns Hospital in September 2019, with the goal to continue expanding.

“Reading isn’t just nice, it is necessary” – Tamsin.

Do you want to make a difference?

Contact your NICU clinic manager to discuss the opportunity to create a support group for families in the NICU. Canadian Premature Babies Foundation trains NICU parents to provide effective peer support and provides grants for hospitals to help get these groups up and running.

Looking to connect with families with premature babies outside the NICU? Join us in our private Facebook support network!

Nurtured in the NICU stories are created by the Canadian Premature Babies Foundation to highlight the wonderful work of doctors, nurses, and parent volunteers in Canada’s NICUs. For more information or if you would like to share an initiative happening in your NICU, please send us an email at

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