“Our earlier study identified that extremely premature infants vocalise (make sounds) eight weeks before their mother’s due date and vocalise more when their mothers are present in the NICU than when they are cared for by NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) staff,” said Betty Vohr, director of Women & Infants Hospital’s Neonatal Follow-Up Programme.
At 32 weeks and 36 weeks, staff recorded the NICU environment for 16 hours with a Language Environment Analysis (LENA) microprocessor.
The adult word count, child vocalisations and “conversation turns” (words of mother or vocalisations of infant within five seconds) between mother and infant are recorded and analysed by computer.
“The follow-up of these infants has revealed that the adult word count to which infants are exposed in the NICU at 32 and 36 weeks predicts their language and cognitive scores at 18 months.
“Every increase by 100 adult words per hour during the 32 week LENA recording was associated with a two point increase in the language score at 18 months,” said Vohr.
“Our study demonstrates the powerful impact of parents visiting and talking to their infants in the NICU on their developmental outcomes. Historically, very premature infants are at increased risk of language delay.
The study now identifies an easy to implement and cost effective intervention – come talk and sing to your baby – to improve outcomes, Vohr said.
The study was published in journal Pediatrics.