A newly released study found that babies who have been born preterm may benefit from more exposure to adults talking. Published in the March 2014 issue of Pediatrics, this study is based on the premise that preterm infants are at a higher risk for language delays later in childhood.
Researchers found that there is a link between preterm infants getting adult speech exposure and their speech development as they become toddlers.
Researchers working on this study recorded 16 hours of sounds in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at a hospital in Rhode Island.
They focused on the vocalized interactions between mothers and their babies including word count, child vocalizations and “conversation turns” when infant vocalizations or words of mother occur within five seconds.
They tested the connection between the amount of adult speech a baby was exposed to at what would have been week 32 and week 36 gestational age (if the baby had not been born preterm) and how well the infant did on speech development tests at both 7 and 18 months old.
The researchers found that preterm infants can make sounds up to eight weeks before their due date. They also found that these babies vocalize more at the times when their mothers are present with them in the NICU than when they are being cared for solely by NICU staff.
Using sound/word distinction software, researchers analyzed all the sounds they recorded and compared them to the speech development tests of the babies later on. They found increases in language composite scores as well as expressive communication scores for every increase by 100 adult words per hour.
Babies exposed to the extra 100 adult words at 32 weeks gestation showed a bigger increase in test scores than those only exposed to them at 36 weeks gestation. The extra 100 words are not difficult to get in. They are roughly the same amount of words in the lullaby, “Hush Little Baby (Don’t Say a Word)”.
The bottom line of this study is that parents need to talk to their preterm babies even more than they think they should.