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Premature Infants Benefit From Hearing Adults Talk

Premature Infants Benefit From Hearing Adults TalkA new study shows that premature babies benefit from being exposed to adult talk — especially from their parents — as early as possible.

Premature babies who are exposed to adult talk test higher on language and cognitive tests, according to researchers at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island and The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

According to the researchers, the goal of the study was to test the association of the amount of talking that a baby was exposed to at what would have been 32 and 36 weeks gestation if he had been born full term, using the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development, 3rd Edition (Bayley – III) cognitive and language scores.

The researchers hypothesized that preterm infants exposed to higher word counts would have higher cognitive and language scores at seven and 18 months corrected age.

“An earlier study found that extremely premature infants vocalize — that is, make sounds — eight weeks before their mother’s due date and vocalize more when their mothers are present in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) than when they are cared for by NICU staff,” said Dr. Betty Vohr, director of Women & Infants’ Neonatal Follow-Up Program and professor of pediatrics.

At 32 weeks and 36 weeks, hospital staff recorded the NICU environment for 16 hours with a Language Environment Analysis (LENA) microprocessor. The adult word count, child vocalizations, and “conversation turns” (words of mother or vocalizations of infant within five seconds) between mother and infant are recorded and analyzed by computer.

“The follow-up of these infants has revealed that the adult word count to which infants are exposed in the NICU at 32 and 36 weeks predicts their language and cognitive scores at 18 months,” Vohr said.

“Every increase by 100 adult words per hour during the 32 week LENA recording was associated with a two point increase in the language score at 18 months.”

Vohr said “the study demonstrates the powerful impact of parents visiting and talking to their infants in the NICU on their developmental outcomes.”

“Historically, very premature infants are at increased risk of language delay,” she said. “The study now identifies an easy to implement and cost-effective intervention — come talk and sing to your baby — to improve outcomes.”

The study was published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Source: Women & Infants Hospital

Mother watching her infant photo by shutterstock.

Premature Infants Benefit From Hearing Adults Talk

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Premature Infants Benefit From Hearing Adults Talk. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 22 Feb 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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