(NaturalNews) In the hospital, premature babies are usually sanctioned in a separate neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) room where they receive very little interaction and hear very little adult communication. Monitors and machines may be humming in the room, but these noises do little to help premature babies develop while they are separated from the attention, care and voice of their mother and others.
Lack of communication with premature babies adversely affects their development
New evidence suggests that premature babies develop faster if they are talked to during this crucial time. This evidence from the Warner Alpert Medical School of Brown University finds that babies who are exposed to talking in the NICU go on to score higher on developmental tests which include communication, motor skills and thinking.
"This is certainly a remarkable, easy to implement and cost effective intervention," said Dr. Betty Vohr from the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.
When Vohr and colleagues began to study deeper into prenatal development, they realized that babies can benefit developmentally by just hearing their mother's voice inside the womb.
But premature babies, who are born before 32 weeks of gestation, may be stymied, because they do not develop while hearing their mother's voice.
It's important to note that babies who remain in their mother's womb up until the end of pregnancy are possibly exposed to multiple thousands more words than babies born prematurely.
To investigate, Vohr's group recruited 36 families whose babies were born before 32 weeks of pregnancy and were kept in the NICU.
The babies wore recording devices that analyzed room noises and conversation over a 16-hour period. Communication analyses were conducted at 32 and 36 weeks.
For the most part, the premature babies were exposed to more talking at 36 weeks. Some babies only heard 144 words, whereas some were exposed to upwards of 26,000 words.
Vohr and colleagues monitored the premature babies as they developed. At seven and 18 months of age, Bayley-III scores were assigned, which tested and measured the infants' motor, language and thinking skills.
Talking to babies speeds up their thinking development by 20 percent
Vohr and colleagues found that, when adult word count per hour increased, so did the infants' motor and communication skills. For example, they found that the amount of talking that the babies heard at 30 weeks accounted for 12-percent differences in their average language scores, which were measured at seven months of age.
Babies who were spoken to more at 36 weeks showed a 26 percent increase in thinking scores at only seven months of age.
At 18 months of age, the babies who heard more adult voices showed communication development score gains of 20 percent!
"To our knowledge, this is the first study showing that early exposure in the NICU of preterm infants to higher numbers of adult words is positively correlated with cognitive and language outcomes after discharge," wrote the researchers.
"I really think that talking to children is a really good thing to do," Dr Heidi Feldman, from Stanford University School of Medicine, added. "Some of us start when our children are in utero. Sometimes our children come when they should still be in utero."
"I think we should pay attention to it, and try to understand it a little bit better and figure out what the causal mechanisms are," she continued, stressing the importance for parents to communicate with their infants in different stages by also touching them gently in safe spots like the earlobe or between the eyebrows.