Middlesbrough Reads continues to support James Cook hospital

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Middlesbrough Reads continues to promote Reading for Pleasure and family across the town with support from Walker Books.

Since 2013 Middlesbrough Reads has been working with Walker Books to donate and deliver books to James Cook Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit. Walker Books have donated copies of Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney which have then been placed inside special story packs and gifted to parents. Included in the pack is a sheet of nursery rhymes and information on the benefits of reading to babies.

Research shows that talking, singing and reading to premature babies helps the electric pathways in their brain to develop, which supports their speech and language skills in later life. Sharing stories also helps parents to bond with their newborns, particularly if they are unable to hold them.

The work being done here in Middlesbrough has been recognised nationally, with the initiative being Highly Commended at the Third Sector’s Business Charity Awards. International authors, Joanna Trollope and Adele Parks, have both visited James Cook Hospital to see the initiative and to talk to new parents about the importance on reading, singing and talking to babies. Middlesbrough Reads manager, Allison Potter, has presented at National conferences, sharing the work going on in Middlesbrough, has hosted visits from professionals from other NHS Trusts and talked to others, resulting in the approach being replicated around the country, including Stoke and Bradford.

Through the power of Twitter, Allison was contacted by a paediatric consultant from Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, and a blogger (a dad of premature twin boys) to talk about and share resources and information from Middlesbrough.

The initial concept came about from a chance introduction and chat with Sue Thompson, who, back in 2013, was the Northern BLISS Regional Co-ordinator, and the partnership continues today.

Sue Thompson, Northern Neonatal Network Care Coordinator says: “I would like to thank Middlesbrough Reads and Walker books for their continuing support within the neonatal unit at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough. The Guess How Much I Love You books have and continue to make a difference to families within the neonatal unit.

"Babies' brains are developing rapidly in the first year of life and this can be impacted by the experiences on the neonatal unit, responsive caregiving builds the neural connections.

"New parents in neonatal units often feel disempowered and unsure of their role in caring for their sick baby. Ensuring they are partners in their baby's care is essential, parents can support the emotional needs of their baby, especially during the period of most intensive medical care.

"A key principle is that repetition helps babies to feel safe and comforted, it helps to provide a sense of predictability in an environment that will feel scary and chaotic babies. It is never too early for repetition to be helpful, reading the same book helps the baby feel safe and comforted. Babies will recognise the sound of their parents' voice and having this book empowers parents to read to their baby immediately after birth.”

One mum, Helen Teasdale shared - “Thanks to the fantastic initiative going on with the James Cook Neonatal Unit and Middlesbrough Reads, not long after being admitted I was given a copy of “Guess How Much I Love You” and information about how sharing stories and talking to your baby gives them the best start in life. I was discharged, but James stayed in hospital for several months.

"One of the things which helped with leaving him was to have a routine. Before I left, we had a story together. I then said goodbye and felt better about leaving him for a little while. The books and stories were an important part of my time in James Cook!”

Allison Potter, Middlesbrough Reads Hub Manager, says: “When a baby is born prematurely, parents often feel helpless and struggle to know what to do to help. Reading a book or singing can have a huge impact on their new-born’s brain development and provide comfort during a difficult time. Babies know their parents voices, so hearing them reading will comfort and soothe them.

"Over the course of this initiative to date it has been lovely to receive feedback from parents about how reading has really helped them during a very anxious time. I think my favourite is ‘Sharing Guess how much I love you has provided us with precious memories that will last forever.’”