A study published in the journal Pediatrics, conducted by a group of researchers from Brown University discovered that the language skills of premature babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) improved when their mothers talked to them.
The vocalizations of 36 preterm infants, along with the adult speech directed at them, were recorded at two times--during their 32nd and 36th week of life. The vocalizations were the vocal sounds the baby would make five seconds after an adult talked to them, or vice-versa.
The researchers found out that when the preemies turned 18 months old, for every additional 100 words spoken to them, their language composite scores increased by 2 points, and their expressive communication scores by 0.5 points.
Premature babies have been found in past studies to be at higher risk for language delays and deficits, as compared to full-term babies. The researchers were able, in fact, to identify the specific type of communication that was effective in minimizing the possibility of these delays.
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These were the instances when the parents would actually address their baby and engage him or her in conversation. This had a stronger effect than when their mothers would just simply hold them, or when the nurses taking care of the child at the NICU would converse amongst themselves about the infant’s condition.
Said Dr. Betty Vohr, pediatrics professor at Brown University and the lead researcher, “Children learn from conversations going on around them, but the back and forth communication is the most important. Parents can make such a difference. Early language predicts language skills later on.”
“Talking and interaction helps with vocabulary development,” explains Lauren Kobritz Krause, chief of speech-language pathology at a Chicago children’s hospital, in an interview with usnews.com. “Talk to your child and be part of their world, and include them in your world throughout the day.”
“This just really involves talking to moms and informing them that you have an important role here, and you can make a big difference for your baby,” adds Vohr.