It seems there’s no age too young to start reading—at least according to the Edmonton Public Library.

In partnership with the Stollery Children’s Hospital, EPL is expanding its Welcome Baby program to the neonatal intensive care unit at the Royal Alexandra Hospital. The program’s goal is to help with newborns’ brain development by providing families with a package that includes items like a book bag, early literacy information and an invitation to get a free library card. 

While in the NICU, premature infants hear plenty of noise but little language, and are deprived of the full extent of in-utero language exposure due to their shortened gestation.

Health care professionals have outlined how important reading is to a baby, and applauded the Stollery and EPL’s initiative.

“Evidence suggests that parents who read to their children in the NICU are more likely to read to their children after discharge,” said Dr. Amber Reichert in a news release, a NICU neonatologist at the Stollery. “Working with EPL to hand out early literacy kits to families in our NICU will help provide support to the parents and newborns who may need it the most.”

Since 2014, parents visiting local Alberta Health Services public health centres have been offered Welcome Baby packages. More than 8,000 families were offered the packages last year.

In a statement Deanna Ganske, whose newborn daughter required NICU care, said she is happy the program will be available to families in the hospital.

“As a first-time mother, I found myself in an unexpected place, feeling very overwhelmed,” said Ganske. “The Welcome Baby program is the perfect opportunity to help a parent’s natural instinct to kick in by reading to their child, build a bond and start developing language skills.”

The Stollery NICU at the RAH treats an average of 120 newborns each month. EPL hopes to expand the program to all Edmonton NICUs.