It surely must be a sign of healthy changes in our culture that so much attention is being given to reading aloud. What’s more, the age of focus keeps getting younger: not only were school-age children found to benefit from regular storytime but preschoolers, then toddlers, and then babies. “Read, talk, sing to your baby!” has become a universal rallying cry among educators, literacy advocates, librarians, and parenting experts.
Now, at last, babies in the womb are being gathered into the reading circle. The world is coming to understand that, to quote The New York Times, “Language Lessons Start in the Womb.” That’s the name of a February 21 article in which renowned pediatrican-author Perri Klaus reports on a compelling new study of language in adopted babies.
The study, conducted in the Netherlands, found that adults who had been born in Korea but were adopted by Dutch families had a much greater ability to make Korean speech sounds than Dutch-born adults. This was true whether they’d been adopted before or after they’d started talking, which led the researchers to conclude that the language they heard before and soon after birth had affected their ability to distinguish and produce speech sounds. These findings build upon those of a 2012 study we’ve mentioned in a previous post in which Dr. Christine Moon found that English and Swedish newborns responded differently to the vowel sounds used in their native language than they did to those of the other language.
Add it all to the big basket of evidence (just scroll down our sidebar to find that) showing that your baby really can hear you from inside the womb, and that she’s already picking up on your unique voice, your laugh, your favorite song to sing in the shower, and all the sounds, rhythms, patterns, and melodies of your language. And if you’re a bilingual parent or couple, the more, the merrier: your mighty little baby will absorb the characteristics of both languages!
Now on to the benefits of reading aloud. First, see our previous National Reading Month posts here and here for some great facts and links. Then check out another great new article, this time in the Washington Post, which starts off with these wonderful words:
One of the most important things parents can do, beyond keeping kids healthy and safe, is to read with them. That means starting when they are newborns and not even able to talk, and continuing well beyond the years that they can read by themselves. Study after study shows that early reading with children helps them learn to speak, interact, bond with parents and read early themselves, and reading with kids who already know how to read helps them feel close to caretakers, understand the world around them and be empathetic citizens of the world.
The article quotes some very encouraging statistics from Scholastic’s Kids & Family Reading Report, for instance that more than three out of four parents start reading aloud before their child is a year old. Forty percent of parents read aloud before their baby is three months old, and 62 percent of parents of young children are reading aloud five to seven days a week. See what we mean about all the attention being given to reading? The message is being heard!
And just think: all these powerful benefits of read-aloud time with your child can begin even before birth. In the last three months of pregnancy, when your baby’s brain and auditory system are already developed enough for her to hear and recognize sounds, you can start practicing this important reading routine and enjoying the feeling of sharing the love of language with your child.
If you’re a mom- or dad-to-be who’s intrigued by the idea of reading to your baby in the womb, we say: this is the month to give it a try! If you carry on through the rest of the pregnancy, we think you’ll be hooked. This is one of the best things you can do for your baby, right up there with prenatal nutrition and checkups.
The well-documented benefits of reading aloud to children and babies, combined with the wealth of scientific support for reading to babies in the womb, make it abundantly clear that It’s Never Too Early to Read to Your Baby! Start this joyful and valuable storytime routine right now, during Read-Aloud Month, when book lovers everywhere are celebrating with activities to spread the love of reading.
Do you need some tips to get started? Check out this post for a fuller exploration of Jim Trelease’s read-aloud insights.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate the ordinary little miracle that is happening right now. You’re pregnant. Countless women (and females of all mammal species) have been in this condition for eons. Today 4.3 babies are born on earth every second!
But no one else is carrying your baby.
And no one’s experience with this amazing process is quite like yours. So indulge yourself for a minute and really feel the wonder of it. Breathe a sigh of gratitude. You’ve been caught up in the excitement and the worries, the preparations and shopping, the fascinating new shapes your body is taking and all the strange (sometimes overwhelming) new sensations you’re feeling. Meanwhile, this little being is riding along inside you, enjoying the bounces and the taste of your breakfast . . . and (by the third trimester) eavesdropping on everything you say!
Yes, you are already communicating with your baby. She knows the rhythms of your body and your sleep cycles, your movements and stillness and, most important, the sound of your voice. Compelling research shows that their mother’s voice plays a crucial role in babies’ growth and development in the womb. Long before you hold your baby in your arms, you begin nurturing her through the power of your unique voice.
Deepak Chopra writes about this connection in his beautiful book, Magical Beginnings, Enchanted Lives: A Holistic Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth. “The process is one that is called neuro-associative conditioning,” he says. “Your nervous system anchors your emotional well-being to the vibration of the sound.” He also says that “the rhythm and pitch of human voices are clearly perceptible in the womb…. An unborn child becomes familiar with his mother’s voice long before he emerges from the womb.”
This early connection that expectant and new parents sense intuitively is now being proven by science. Research shows that babies in the third trimester can hear, recognize, and even remember sounds—especially their mother’s voice—and this stimulation plays a vital role in their development. Researchers at Harvard University Medical School, for example, found that an expectant mother’s voice has a strong influence on the language centers in a baby’s brain. According to the study, a mother’s voice provides “the auditory fitness necessary to shape the brain for hearing and language development.” So, not only does talking to your bump help you to bond with your little one, but it actually helps her brain to grow!
Studies also show that reading to babies in utero is particularly powerful. Newborns have been found to respond to rhythmic, rhyming stories that were read to them regularly in the last weeks before birth. When your newborn baby cries, you can read her a poem or story you’ve practiced repeatedly during pregnancy and she will immediately be stilled by the familiar beat and the beauty of the voice she has been listening to for months. Wouldn’t it be nice to have one more way of comforting your new baby when she gets fussy? If you start talking, singing, and reading to your baby in the womb, you’ll see her face light up when she hears you in person! Until then, you can know that she is already loving, and learning from, the sweet sound of her mother’s voice.
“If we aim to create a nonviolent world,” says Deepak in his book, “we must begin with love and nourishment in the womb.” In other words, if you foster calm and peace in your baby’s environment even before she’s born by communicating with her consciously, the effects can last through her childhood, perhaps carrying that deep-seated feeling of well-being throughout her life. Imagine a world where all babies experienced this “magical beginning”! It could become a reality, starting with you. Now, that opportunity is a lot to be thankful for.
We at the Reading Womb are so grateful to all of our readers, and everyone who has supported Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be, the first board book specially created to read to the baby in the womb.
To show our appreciation we’d like to offer you $3 off the price of Can’t Wait to Show You through the end of November. Just visit our Amazon page and use promo code SQN736UN at checkout. Here is a taste of the baby-love dreams that await you . . .
During this exciting time, don’t forget how important it is for you to relax and enjoy the moment. Relaxation not only feels wonderful to you, but is very good for your baby. As we all know, stress can have a strong impact on our physiological and psychological well-being, and recent research (this British study, for example) suggests that these effects can be passed on to the unborn baby.
So take it easy, mother-to-be! Just by sitting or lying back comfortably and breathing, you’re accomplishing something important: nurturing and caring for your baby. As you take each deep breath in, you’re also breathing for your baby. She’s taking in that life-giving oxygen and it’s nourishing her and helping her grow. Each beat of your heart brings invigorating blood to your baby, making her stronger every moment. Meanwhile, those heartbeats and breaths are playing her a soothing, rhythmic lullaby. . . in full surround-sound!
When you add your voice to the mix, especially by reading your baby a calming, rhythmic story, you have the formula for perfect relaxation for both mother and child. As you read aloud you’ll find yourself feeling more calm as your heartbeat and breathing slow down. This relaxation will immediately pass to your baby; you’ll both feel connected, soothed, and peaceful. Just like that, you’re forming a deep, loving bond.
You may not yet know your baby, but your baby definitely knows you! She knows the rhythms of your body, your waking and sleeping cycles, when and what you eat, when you’re active or still, and most importantly, she knows your voice. Compelling research shows that the mother’s voice plays a crucial role in babies’ growth and development in the womb. Long before you hold your baby in your arms, you begin nurturing her through the power of your unique voice.
Researchers at Harvard University Medical School reported their study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finding that an expectant mother’s voice plays a vital role in the development of the language centers in a baby’s brain. According to the study, a mother’s voice provides “the auditory fitness necessary to shape the brain for hearing and language development.” So, not only does talking to your bump help you to bond with your little one, but it actually helps her brain to grow!
When you get a chance, check out all the previous studies listed in our sidebar that show the importance of a mother’s voice on the developing child in utero. But here’s a quick summary of a few of them:
- Babies in utero can recognize, and show a strong preference for, their mother’s voice over the voice of a stranger. See this study.
- Newborn babies remember and show attentiveness to nursery rhymes that were read to them by their mother during the last trimester of pregnancy. Check it out here.
- Babies in utero can distinguish between words spoken in their mother’s language and in other languages. Read this article.
These and many related discoveries assure us that a baby in the last trimester is hearing, responding to, and remembering what she’s exposed to from inside the womb. Your baby is already familiar with the melody and cadence of your voice, and this interaction is stimulating the auditory cortex, which plays a large role in developing her brain.
On top of that, research and lots of anecdotal evidence — including from our readers — strongly suggest that newborn babies are soothed and calmed by a rhythmic and repetitive story (or song) they heard regularly during the last trimester.
When your baby is born she leaves the soothing environment of the womb, with its predictable, rhythmic sounds. But if you hold her close and read a poem or story you’ve practiced repeatedly, she will immediately be stilled by the familiar beat and by the beauty of your unique voice, the voice she has known and loved for months. Wouldn’t it give you a little extra confidence to have one more way of comforting your new baby when she gets fussy?
So celebrate Mother’s Day by talking, singing, and reading to your baby even before birth. Soon enough, you will see your little one’s face light up when she hears you in person! Until then, you can know that she already knows and responds to the sweet sound of her mother’s voice.
As an added bonus, you can be sure that by talking to your baby now, you are laying the foundation for future language and literacy skills, cognitive development and, best of all, a sweet, strong mother-and-child bond.
Happy Mother’s Day!
You just heard the wonderful news: someone you love is having a baby and it’s time to celebrate! What better way to show your excitement about the anticipated arrival than to throw a baby shower? Women have gathered to honor and support expectant mothers since Biblical times (think The Red Tent). But our current-day baby showers more closely resemble those that began in the Victorian period, when tea parties were held by female family members after the baby was born (because discussing a pregnancy publicly was taboo at the time).
How times have changed! These days guests at a baby shower are often clued in to the gender and even the name of the expected little one. Another trend is the Baby Sprinkle, a toned-down shower held for second-time moms. There are now showers for expectant Grandmas and—if you think you’ve heard it all—the Daddy Shower is gaining in popularity. Yes, it’s a gathering for the expectant father and his male friends only, an idea that would have had those Victorian ladies squirming in their corsets!
Celebrating the pending arrival of a child comes in many interesting and surprising forms, but the heart of the matter remains a strong desire to support the new family as they embark on their journey into parenthood. Experienced mothers will use the baby shower as an opportunity to share advice about pregnancy and newborns. The gifts they give reflect their wisdom about what a new mother and baby need at the beginning of their lives together. In the times of The Red Tent, the traditional gift to a pregnant woman or new mother might be a figure of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love and fertility (often given in secret, since idolatry was considered a grave sin at the time). Today, it’s soft onesies, musical mobiles, and glow-in-the-dark pacifiers, and although these offerings could not be more different, they all reflect the desire to give the new mother something she values, something that will support her as she eases into her new role.
As essential and thoughtful as these gifts are, each has a particular period of usefulness. They’ll be valued and enjoyed but very quickly outgrown and put aside. What then can you give the expectant mother that will truly express the love and support you feel and will have a timeless effect? Well, step into the children’s section of your favorite bookstore and your search will soon be over. Not only will you be giving a beautiful gift, but you’ll also inspire the new family to embrace storytime, that snuggly sacred ritual that will be treasured throughout the child’s life. By giving books you are sharing something so important, so enduring that it could quite possibly have an impact on generations to come.
Do you know what a woman does right after she finds out she’s pregnant (well, perhaps after screaming)? She reads! Pregnant women absorb information like sponges when it comes to their new role as Mommy. What better way to fulfill that need than by giving a book as a gift topper at a baby shower? I loved reading the books experienced moms told me were must-haves. It helped me feel like I wasn’t in this alone, like there really was a village behind me. You could even do cute things around a book-themed baby shower that have been trending recently, like a stack-of-books cake, a themed menu (Dragons Love Tacos), and even a guest book signing by a beloved (local!) author.
—Kristin Quinn, Misadventures in Mommyhood blog
It seems as though this idea is catching on, big time. The brilliant new trend of book-themed baby showers is spreading across the globe as more and more people realize the power of giving the gift of storytime. Guests are asked to bring a book to the expectant mother, sometimes in lieu of a card, favorite babies’ books are used in table settings, and images of kids’ classics are used to decorate the room—and even the cupcakes! The goal is to stock the new family’s bookshelf with a variety of titles, gifts the child will love for his entire life. Unlike clothes and toys, the love of reading cannot be outgrown. As a matter of fact, it grows alongside the child, changing and adapting throughout his lifetime, bringing new gifts and surprises all along the way.
This wonderful Book Baby Shower trend might have come about as a result of all attention given recently to the importance of reading. From Reach Out and Read to Too Small to Fail to Reading Rockets and, of course, your local children’s librarian, the message is spreading: Read to your child, even for just 15 minutes a day. Supported by lots of research, these early-literacy advocates say that daily storytime exposes children to new vocabulary, develops reading and language skills, promotes brain growth, inspires empathy, and encourages family bonding. Now that’s a gift!
There’s yet another benefit of giving books to an expectant mother. Those adorable little baby socks can be admired, but they can’t actually be used until baby arrives. Books, on the other hand, are a gift the expectant mother can start sharing with her little one right away! There’s a heap of research supporting the incredible benefits of reading to babies in utero. (Please scroll down the sidebar for links to studies, articles, and videos.) It’s generally understood that babies hear their mother’s voice during the last trimester, and remember and are soothed by the familiar story after they’re born. Those final weeks before baby arrives are the perfect time for parents-to-be to practice reading aloud, getting used to reciting bouncy Dr. Seuss rhythms and putting some silly expression into a Sandra Boynton story. This is the time to make bedtime stories a nightly routine that they’ll look forward to as much as their baby will.
Beautiful books for babies are abundant, and here are some tips for choosing the perfect Book Baby Shower gift. All the research shows that babies, inside the belly and out, drool over words that are rhyming, rhythmic, and repetitive, and get all gaga if the words are spoken by their mother. So pick a lovely, colorful book with simple poetic text. For some beautiful baby book choices, please see our December 2014 post, The Perfect Gift for Your Expectant Loved One. And of course we have to put in a word for our own Can’t Wait to Show You, created specially for reading to babies before and after birth.
How about a fun little extra to use as a party favor? Here’s a “Books We Read to Baby” reading log for expectant parents that you can print on cardstock and include in your book-themed decorations or goody bags.
The recent upsurge of interest you’ve shown in the benefits of in utero reading has been very exciting for us to watch, as has been the continuing stream of scientific research into the subject.
Now we’re asking ourselves: What will transform this interest into a movement? And we think the answer is: lots more anecdotal evidence from parents themselves, not to mention grandparents and others closely involved in the pregnancy and birth.
So we’re putting out a call, urging you more strongly than ever to give this practice a try, to add to the body of informal research and watch how the movement grows. Will the next generation be even more sensitive, curious, and intelligent than the last?
To make it really easy for you, we’re offering a crazy discount on our beautiful board book, Can’t Wait to Show You, created specially for reading to the baby in the womb.
From now until August 10, use promo code 2V39994M for a full $5 off every purchase on Amazon!
Now, just in case you need more motivation to overcome a bit of skepticism, or even a feeling of awkwardness about reading to an unseen listener, here is a quick review of the benefits of reading to babies before and after birth. . .
An abundance of research over the last several years has shown that babies in the third trimester of pregnancy can hear and recognize words spoken by their mother (and father and others, too), and remember them after birth. There is conclusive and compelling evidence showing that the benefits of reading to your baby before birth are immediate and long-lasting.
Your baby will become familiar with your unique voice: Research shows that babies recognize the voice of their mother at birth and can distinguish their mother’s voice from that of a stranger.
Bonding with your baby prenatally benefits his future health and emotional well-being: When a pregnant woman feels love for her expected child in the womb, she releases endorphins (“feel good” hormones), which trigger the same hormone release in the baby. The result is a baby who has unhindered physical, cognitive, and neurological growth, and who is born with a general sense of safety and well-being.
When you take time to relax and read, your baby relaxes, too: When an expectant mother’s heartbeat and breathing slow down, her baby responds physiologically, endocrinologically, and neurologically. These responses have a positive effect on the baby’s growth and development.
Your baby will begin to learn language: Hearing speech patterns and rhythms in the womb begins to teach babies their primary language.
A familiar, rhythmic story will soothe your newborn: Newborn babies show a clear preference for the rhythm and melody of a song or poem that they heard regularly from the womb. Babies actually remember a rhythmic poem or story that they heard during the last trimester for up to four weeks after birth, and they’re measurably calmed by that familiar story.
The more words your baby hears, the better adjusted and more successful she will be in life: There is a direct correlation between the amount that parents talk to babies and their academic and social success. The more words a baby hears in the early years, the more advanced her language and literacy development will be in the future.
Reading to your child before and after birth strengthens family and social bonds: Establishing a routine around reading creates a sacred, centered, regular time devoted to you and your child. This helps expectant parents and siblings develop a relationship with the baby before birth, easing the transition into parenthood and siblinghood. In the bigger picture, family reading helps establish a culture in which literacy and language are a priority.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents read to their baby as early as possible: Establishing a regular reading routine before birth is one of the very best things parents can do for their children, and at last there’s a book especially designed for the purpose! Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be, has all the research-recommended ingredients for inspiration and success:
- The rollicking rhythm and rhymes are easy to read and will be soothing music to baby’s ears.
- Visual appeal for the newborn: This bright and colorful board book will capture baby’s attention, and the chunky design and easy-to-grasp pages are baby-friendly.
- The sweet verses and illustrations allow the expectant mother to celebrate this time of joyful anticipation.
- As a fun, unique bonus, this sturdy board book, made in the USA, is uniquely shaped to rest comfortably over the pregnant belly and then over the newborn’s belly when he or she arrives!