Entitled “Adult Talk in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) with Pre-Term Infants and Developmental Outcomes,” the research involved 36 babies (and their respective families) born earlier than 32 weeks of pregnancy (full-term pregnancy is from 39 to 41 weeks). The babies in the study were all medically stable despite having been born prematurely.
To monitor the background sounds and conversations that reach the babies’ ears, they were made to wear vests with recording devices. The audio recordings were taken when the babies were in their 32nd and 36th weeks (based on gestational age or the age from conception). The one-time audio recording monitoring spanned 16 continuous hours.
Based on the data collected, the babies had more exposure to adult conversations at 36 weeks although the amount of words they were exposed to was notably varied. Some were exposed to as little as 144 words while others heard over 26,000 words. These data were then compared to the babies’ Bayley-III scores taken at their seven and eighteen months corrected age.
After comparing the monitored talk exposure data with the Bayley-III scores, the researchers found that the amount of talking the babies were exposed to at 32 weeks had some influence in the babies’ language and communication scores at 18 months corrected age. It accounted to a 12% difference in the language scores and a 20% difference in communication scores.
On the other hand, for the 36-week-old (gestational age) participants in the study, there was a recorded 26% variation in thinking scores at seven months corrected age.
In general, the research results produced after the study show the directly proportional relationship between adult talk exposure with language and thinking scores. “To our knowledge, this is the first study showing that early exposure in the NICU of preterm infants to higher numbers of adult words is positively correlated with cognitive and language outcomes after discharge,” the researchers noted.
The study was led by Dr. Betty Vohr, a Pediatrics professor and the director of Women and Infants’ Neonatal Follow-Up Programme. Dr. Vohr said that the results of the study “demonstrate the powerful impact of parents visiting and talking to their infants in the NICU on their developmental outcomes.”
The overall result of the study is significant considering how historical records show that pre-term babies are generally affected by heightened risks of developmental delays in linguistic skills. Now, it can be said that to help avoid language delays among premature babies, parents should regularly pay them a visit at the NICU and expose them to good amounts of talk even if they are unlikely to react or interact.