27 August 2015

Tygerberg: reading encourages bonding between mother and baby

A project to instil a love of reading and bonding between babies and their mothers has been initiated by a neonatologist working at Tygerberg Children’s Hospital in Cape Town.

Mothers of newborn babies and children have experienced the joy and benefits of reading through a project at Tygerberg Children’s Hospital in Cape Town.

Babies' brains light up

The project has been initiated by a neonatologist working at the hospital, Miemie du Preez, who was inspired to instil a love of reading and bonding between babies and their mothers.

Read: Parents' manual for newborns

The reading project has started with premature babies, some of them weighing barely a kilogram, but will be extended to include children and teenagers. Du Preez said starting with premature babies was the natural first step.

“As premature babies have had less time in the womb, they need to hear the sound of their mother’s voice. Reading nursery rhymes has been proven to stimulate the baby’s brain. If a parent reads to a baby, the brain lights up."

Du Preez said a study has shown that premature babies that are read to for 15 minutes three times a week had better neurological outcomes.

Read: Very premature babies face developmental impairment

“You’re literally growing their brains by reading to them. ”Each mother is given a booklet of lullabies and nursery rhymes, which is available in English, Xhosa, Afrikaans and other languages.

They mark them individually with the footprint and handprint of their baby. 

Image: Neonatologist, Miemie du Preez, together with the principal of the Tygerberg Children’s Hospital school, Susan Potgieter, encourage young patients to come to the library to read.

The mothers, who stay with their premature babies until they are strong enough to go home – often a couple of months – keep a note of their reading times.

Library a safe haven

Mother, Ncumisa Mzinjani, who comes from Mfuleni in Cape Town, says it’s been a rewarding experience for both her and her baby boy. “He knows it’s me. He recognises my voice. It’s calming and he enjoys the rhythm. I can feel that he loves it. It makes me happy too. I want to do the best for my baby and help him to grow up well."

Mzinjani said she would continue reading to Indiphile, who has grown from a fragile 750 grams to a much stronger nearly 1.2 kilograms within six weeks. The library at the Tygerberg Children’s Hospital school is opening its doors so that all children, including those who are outpatients at the hospital, can start to experience the fun and joy of reading.

“The library is a safe haven to enjoy shared reading. We hope it will ignite the imagination of children and start to nurture a love for books and reading from a young age,” said du Preez.

A shared reading experience from a young age is one of the strongest predictors of a child’s academic success.

“Reading can make a big difference in literacy and success at school. We can’t do without it. In South Africa, 51% of grade 1 children in South Africa don’t have a single recreational book at home. We desperately need to get children to read. If we can spread the benefits of shared reading, it could change the educational outcome in South Africa."

Stimulating for babies

Medical students from Stellenbosch University, together with nurses and volunteers will take the mothers and children to the library on the hospital grounds, and will be able to demonstrate shared reading to the mothers.

Read: Pre-term or small birth tied to long-term risks to heart, brain

Trollies of books will be introduced into the wards for children who are not well enough to go to the library. Du Preez said doctors had also come on board and would write scripts that encouraged reading as part of the child’s management plan.

Nurses at the hospital have also welcomed the project.

“It’s very important and stimulating for the babies. It also good for the mothers and caregivers. It’s empowering,” said nurse, Martha Gertze.

Read: Mom’s voice helps premature babies

Du Preez hopes reading will become part of life for mothers and babies and children once they leave the hospital and spark a realisation of the critical role of reading in boosting vocabulary.

Ideally, du Preez would like every child who is a patient at the hospital to go home with a book. Du Preez’s project has the backing of the Tygerberg Children’s Hospital Trust, which raises funds to support the care of more than 16,000 babies and children who are admitted to the hospital every year.

To support this project at Tygerberg Children’s Hospital Trust, contact fundraiser, Malcolm Kling at 021 9389583 or

To donate books or to volunteer your time on the reading project, please contact Laticia Pienaar on 021 9385454 or 

Read more:

Mother's milk a miracle medicine for mom and baby

Near-term babies still have higher risk of ADHD

Pre-term or small birth tied to long-term risks to heart, brain


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