Premature infants face many health risks, including an increased risk of language delay. But a recent study helps to confirm an easy and cost-effective intervention that parents of premature children can start immediately: Talking and singing to their baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

Researchers at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island wanted to know: Is there a relationship between the amount of speech that a premature baby hears, and the child’s performance on standardized language tests? Not only did they find a relationship, but they found that a premature child’s language score could increase an average of two points when the number of words spoken per hour by adults increased by just 100. (To put that in perspective, adults generally speak at a rate of 125 words per minute.)
In short, premature babies absolutely benefit from exposure to adult talk as early and as often as possible. Dr. Betty Vohr, who co-authored the study, had found in an earlier study that “extremely premature infants vocalize—make sounds—eight weeks before their mother’s due date and vocalize more when their mothers are present in the NICU than when they are cared for by NICU staff.” This new study, Vohr adds, demonstrates the “powerful impact of parents visiting and talking to their infants in the NICU on their developmental outcomes.” Find out more in the journal Pediatrics.