Turns out, reading simple books a few minutes a day is good for more than just lulling babies to sleep.

mom and baby reading board book
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When your baby is born prematurely, you naturally want to do everything in your power to help her grow strong. You may try kangaroo care, breastfeeding, and, if she's in the NICU, spending countless hours at her side. But there may be one more way parents of premature babies can help: read to them.

Turns out, narrating books like Pat the Bunny is good for more than just lulling little ones to sleep. It also can help boost a preemie's brain development and even sharpen her future reading skills, says Dr. Carmina Erdei, a neonatologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "Babies are in huge need of meaningful auditory stimulation," she told WCVB. This is of particular importance for preemies, she says, since more than half who are born at a very low birth weight struggle with language delays during the early years of life.

Which is where reading aloud comes in handy. As Dr. Erdei points out, babies who received that meaningful language were better readers by the time they reached third grade. "[Reading to your preemie] promotes early brain development, and it really sets up a child for success."

But no need to cart an entire library with you to the NICU. Dr. Erdei suggests reading to your infant for 15 to 20 minutes a day, which amounts to a handful of board books. (Check out some tried-and-true favorites.) And while it's great if you or your partner are the ones doing the narrating, it's also okay if one of the NICU nurses takes over story time while you grab some much-needed shut-eye. Your baby will still reap all the same benefits.

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Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow is a New York City-based writer and editor who traded in her Blackberry and Metro card for playdates and PB&J sandwiches—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch her feisty, funny son grow up. Follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.