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Read to your baby right from the start

Abbe Hensley | Matt Hirschfeld | Stephanie Monahan

It was great news last week, when the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced it is asking its 62,000 members to urge parents to read to their children as soon as they're born.

For the first time, the AAP will promote early literacy - beginning from an infant's very first days - as an "essential" component of primary care visits. From a pediatrician's point of view, early out-loud reading is now right up there with breast-feeding and immunizations in terms of far-reaching positive impacts.

From our point of view, this news couldn't have come at a better time. The All Alaska Pediatric Partnership (A2P2) began zeroing in on the birth-to-3 age group, with the launch last fall of its First 1,000 Days of Life Campaign. For more information about A2P2, go to their website www.aapalaska.org.

The AAP policy also lends medical support to what many of us have been shouting from the roof tops: early literacy starts at birth, long before children can form words, let alone read on their own. Doctors are trusted resources in raising children and supporting families. When your pediatrician tells you to read to your newborn, you're more likely to listen and heed the advice.

Many pediatricians and health care providers have long advised parents to read aloud to their children. In Alaska, health care providers at 65 clinics and medical centers are part of Reach Out and Read, a national initiative in which doctors give their small patients a book and advise the parents to read aloud. But the new AAP policy gives more heft to these recommendations.

We are already ahead of the curve with resources currently available to Alaska parents - resources such as Imagination Library, which now provides a quality, age-appropriate book every month to 22,006 Alaska children, birth to 5, in 111 communities. Funding comes from myriad sources, including the State of Alaska, businesses, foundations, and individuals. Find out more about Imagination Library here: http://www.bestbeginningsalaska.org/what-we-do/expanding-imagination-lib...

A2P2 partner hospitals are helping, too. Best Beginnings works with Alaska Native Medical Center and Providence Hospital to enroll newborns. Since many of the babies born at those hospitals live in other communities, Best Beginnings makes sure their enrollment forms are matched to Imagination Library affiliates in their home communities. Bartlett Hospital in Juneau enrolls newborns, too, working with Juneau and Southeast Imagination Library.

The research on child development is incontrovertible: A child's earliest experiences - such as being read to - have profound impacts on vocabulary, communication skills, social and emotional development, and cognitive development. A child's earliest experiences pave the way for how that child will fare in school and in life. It starts at birth. So should books.

Dr. Matt Hirschfeld is medical director for Maternal Child Health Services at the Alaska Native Medical Center and co-chair of All Alaska Pediatric Partnership. Stephanie Monahan is executive director of All Alaska Pediatric Partnership and the American Academy of Pediatrics, Alaska Chapter. Abbe Hensley is executive director of Best Beginnings.