Program gets books to babies

Lily Zustiak was read to before she was even born.

Her mother, Heather Zustiak, said she and her husband Nick began reading to Lily while she was still in the womb. They wanted her to get a head start on learning to love having someone read to her.

"I think they enjoy it," Zustiak said. "I've heard it helps their development."

Public health nurses at the Island County Health Department have heard the same thing. Now they are doing something to make sure reading to infants and children becomes a Whidbey Island tradition.

Loretta Bezold, a public health nurse for the Island County Health Department, visited first-time mom Zustiak and five week-old Lily in Coupeville this week. Part of Bezold's visit includes encouraging parents to read to their baby, so she brought baby Lily the book "Goodnight Moon."

Bezold is one of four public health nurses working in the county's Healthy Baby program. The focus of Healthy Babies, Bezold said, is to give a supportive welcome to all new babies living in the county. All parents, regardless of income, are welcome to have a house call from a nurse such as Bezold.

"The beauty of this program is that you just have to have a baby." she said.

Healthy Babies is a voluntary program, but public health nurses like to see babies from birth to two months of age. Bezold said the visit allows nurses to check the mother's post-partum recovery. This can include making sure mom is sleeping and eating well and taking her vitamins. Nurses check the health of the babies, making sure they are developing adequately for their age bracket.

The nurses are also there as a resource. Bezold said oftentimes mothers don't have questions about their babies until they've been home from the hospital for a few days.

The Island County Health Department also provides a Healthy Baby Gift Package. The package includes books for both the baby and parent, an organizer filled with information about community resources, immunizations, child development and legal documents and a homemade blanket.

Whidbey Island Hospital Foundation funds the program. Community members donate homemade blankets for babies as well as some of the books.

After her visit from Bezold this week, Zustiak was positive about the experience.

"It was really good," said Zustiak. I would definitely recommend it to new moms.

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