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Leveraging the Skills of Nurses and the Power of Language Nutrition to Ensure a Better Future for Children

Darcy Mahoney, Ashley PhD, NNP-BC; Zauche, Lauren Head BSN, PhD(c); Hallowell, Sunny PhD, MSN, CPNP, IBCLC; Weldon, Arianne MPH; Stapel-Wax, Jennifer PsyD

Section Editor(s): Gephart, Sheila

doi: 10.1097/ANC.0000000000000373
Evidence-Based Practice Brief

Background: Early language exposure is critical for language acquisition and significantly influences a child's literacy skills. However, preterm infants may experience language deprivation in the neonatal intensive care unit. Nurses are vital to helping parents understand their critical role in early language development.

Purpose: To discuss the impact of language-rich interactions and interventions that promote early language exposure, or Language Nutrition, by parents and caregivers on the long-term developmental, language, and educational outcomes of high-risk infants.

Methods/Search Strategy: A literature search was conducted using PubMed and Web of Science to identify articles that examined the influence of language interactions with high-risk infants on developmental outcomes. Recent campaigns touting the importance of early language exposure were identified through the Bridging the Word Gap Research Network.

Findings/Results: Increasing preterm infants' exposure to Language Nutrition improves their language development, promotes parent–infant attachment, and decreases parent stress. In addition, it may result in greater neuroplasticity and volume of the auditory cortex. Several campaigns have been developed to increase children's access to Language Nutrition and can be implemented into everyday pediatric and neonatal care.

Implications for Practice: Pediatric, neonatal nurses and advanced practice nurses are uniquely positioned to play a transformational role in high-risk infants' developmental trajectory by educating parents about the importance of Language Nutrition and supporting parents as they engage with their infant.

Implications for Research: Studies investigating the population-level impact of interventions aimed at increasing infants' access to Language Nutrition as well as studies identifying effective ways to communicate messages about Language Nutrition are warranted.

George Washington University School of Nursing, and George Washington Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute, George Washington University, Washington, District of Columbia (Dr Darcy Mahoney); Emory University Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, Atlanta, Georgia (Dr Head Zauche); Villanova School of Nursing, Pennsylvania (Dr Hallowell); Get Georgia Reading—Campaign for Grade Level Reading, Atlanta, Georgia (Ms Weldon); and Department of Pediatrics, Emory University School of Medicine, and Marcus Autism Center, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Atlanta, Georgia (Dr Stapel-Wax).

Correspondence: Ashley Darcy Mahoney, PhD, NNP-BC, George Washington University School of Nursing, 2030 M St NW Ste 300, Washington, DC 20052 (

Darcy Mahoney has received honoraria from Ikaria as part of the Speaker's bureau.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

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© 2017 by The National Association of Neonatal Nurses