PARENTS are being encouraged to read to their babies on Airedale Hospital's neonatal unit.

And as part of the initiative, free book bags were presented to the unit during National Storytelling Week.

The bags, donated by Bradford Libraries, included books for use by families during their stay and puppets and activities to take home.

Chloe Taylor, neonatal sister at Airedale NHS Foundation Trust, says: "Whenever a new baby comes to the unit, we give them books and always encourage parents to read to them. Even if they are in an incubator, babies can still hear the parents' voices and it is such an important bond.

"No one when they get pregnant and have a baby ever thinks they will come to the neonatal unit, so we try very hard to normalise everything and encourage parents to do just what they would do at home. So even though there might be lots of wires and medical equipment around, that shouldn’t take away from these parents celebrating having their baby. Sometimes that can mean starting a book series if they are here for a long time, or it may be a short story hour; it’s just about connecting with your baby, remembering this is your baby, and doing those normal things you would have done if you were at home."

Clare Kernick, a staff nurse on the unit, says the initiative presents a "lovely" opportunity for parents and babies to interact.

She adds: "When parents first come onto the unit they might feel out of place or uncomfortable doing these things, but we want them to know that this is something they can do with their baby while they’re having skin-to-skin contact or when the baby is in the incubator. It’s a lovely time where they can interact with their baby and start off that reading journey for them, which every parent wants to do. We find that once parents start, they enjoy it and read a lot more."

Amongst those to receive books were Gemma Hanson and Ollie Maughan, from Steeton, whose twins Willow and Luna arrived on the unit after being born at 29 weeks.

Gemma says: "It’s just nice to sit and read to them and rediscover some new books too, because there were some that we haven’t read before. We’ve got a little two-year-old girl Mya already at home, and she’s been so excited about her new sisters."