Are you expecting an extra-special little present this holiday season or in the months to come? Are you all aglow from something much more exciting than Jack Frost nipping at your nose? We know you can’t wait to cherish this precious gift, and we want to tell you how you can start making a real connection with your little one even before she arrives. Read aloud to her right now!
Babies in the third trimester can already hear very well, and studies (check out the research links in the sidebar) show that they recognize their mother’s voice, and newborns remember and show attentiveness to nursery rhymes that were read to them by their mother during the last trimester of pregnancy. The baby becomes familiar with the rhythm of the lines, and with the unique melody of the reader’s voice, and responds to the sound after she’s born. Yes, you really will be bonding with her well before birth, and she’ll be soothed by these same stories as a newborn.
The power of regular storytime for families is well researched and documented. Reading to children from the very beginning has benefits that range from strengthening family bonds, to teaching empathy and social skills, to enhancing cognitive and language development. Parents who start reading to baby regularly before birth make storytime into a favorite nightly ritual, and it’s much easier for them to keep up the habit when their newborn arrives and their lives turn upside-down!
What book should I read to my baby in the womb?
There are so many wonderful books to choose from! Any Dr. Seuss book, for instance, has the jaunty rhythms and catchy rhymes that are the easiest for babies to pick up on from inside the womb. We listed other suggestions in this post a few years back.
But we have to say that there’s only one book that includes not only rhythm and rhyme, but a story that describes the experience of the expectant mom herself. Our beautiful board book, Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be, rejoices in all the little things she’ll soon be introducing to her baby’s wondering eyes, ears, nose, and mouth — exploring all five senses and the joys of play, friends, and love. It’s quite a moving experience for an expectant mother, and of course Daddy and other family members can share it with her.
We were touched and honored to receive this Amazon review recently that voices one reader’s appreciation of our book’s special point of view…
This book is very cute, and I will live up to every word once my son is here. It will be good to tell him that I’ve read the book to him while he was in mommy’s belly and now we get to do all the things together.
Establishing a regular reading routine before birth is one of the very best things parents can do for their children, and Can’t Wait to Show You has all the research-recommended, parent-tested ingredients for inspiration and success:
- The rollicking rhythm and rhymes are easy to read and will be soothing music to baby’s ears.
- There’s visual appeal for the newborn: the bright and colorful illustrations 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 around the newborn when he arrives!
Happy Holidays, parents-to-be, and all those who are awaiting their bundle of joy with them! Our gift to you: Use promo code TS9XQC38 at checkout on Amazon for 20% off Can’t Wait to Show You until midnight on January 5, 2017, the end of the 12 Days of Christmas.
During your last trimester, it really does become obvious that your bump is not just a bump, that your little son or daughter is in there, ready to be born and meet you. You have felt him twist and poke you from inside and watched your belly roll and wave. You’ve seen his little nose and toes on the ultrasound — he’s already a perfect little person, cozy in his warm, safe space. Yes, you are a mother, and you have lots to celebrate on this holiday dedicated to you.
You’re so eager to meet this little one who has been close to you for months! What will it be like to hold him and see his face for the very first time? The last months of pregnancy are exciting, and as your belly grows larger, so does your love for your baby, who will be arriving very soon. It’s so hard to wait, isn’t it?
But here’s the incredible news. You may not yet know your baby, but your baby definitely knows you! He 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, he knows your voice . . . intimately.
Compelling new research shows that your voice plays as crucial a role in your baby’s growth and development as the healthy foods you’ve been eating all these past months. So although you have to wait a bit to hold your baby in your arms, you can begin nurturing him immediately, through the magical power of your unique voice.
Special Mother’s Day Gift! You or your expectant loved one can try reading in utero with our beautiful board book created specially for the purpose. Click here and enter promo code W49ZZ9DQ to get Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be for $3 off until May 31, 2015.
Researchers at Harvard University Medical School recently 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.”
If you’ve been following the Reading Womb blog, then you’re familiar with all the previous studies that show the importance of a mother’s voice on the developing child in utero. 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 he’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 his brain.
But wait — there’s more! 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 he leaves the soothing environment of the womb, with its predictable, rhythmic sounds. But if you hold him close and read a poem or story you’ve practiced with repeatedly, he will immediately be stilled by the familiar beat and by the beauty of your unique voice, the voice he 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?
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 he hears you in person! Until then, you can know that he already knows and responds to the sweet sound of his Mummy’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.
Not only is March National Reading Month, but March 2nd is Read Across America Day, and March 4th is World Read Aloud Day! If you are an expectant parent feeling intrigued by the idea of reading to your baby in the womb, we say: Give it a try on Wednesday, March 4! If you carry on through the rest of the month, we think you’ll be hooked. And this is one of the best things you can do for your baby, right up there with prenatal nutrition and healthcare.
World Read Aloud Day, celebrated annually on the first Wednesday in March, was initiated by LitWorld, an international literacy advocacy organization. According to LitWorld, this day “motivates children, teens, and adults worldwide to celebrate the power of words, especially those words that are shared from one person to another.” We heartily approve of LitWorld’s mission (the emphasis is ours):
We cultivate a love of reading and writing because having the chance to experience that love is how literacy grows best and strongest. Literacy for LitWorld is not just about learning the alphabet or phonemic practice; it is also about cultivating creative expression, about the power of the read-aloud to immerse children in the power of language, and about putting young people’s stories out into the world, dignifying their experience and giving them a voice in the world.
Yes! And that powerful read-aloud time with your child can begin even before birth. In the last three months of pregnancy, when the baby’s brain and auditory system are already developed enough for him 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. The benefits of in utero reading to babies’ cognitive development and language skills have been well documented over the last several years (just check out the Research section in the sidebar).
So we’re really excited to tell you about the latest contribution to this body of work, just reported on February 24. This study, led by the Harvard Medical School, showed that a baby’s brain development is enhanced by hearing its mother’s voice and heartbeat before full gestation. “We theorize,” say the researchers, “that exposure to maternal sounds may provide newborns with the auditory fitness necessary to shape the brain for hearing and language development.” We’re right there with you!
All the benefits of reading aloud to children that LitWorld so passionately advocates, 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 National Reading Month! Book lovers everywhere are commemorating this special month with activities to spread the love of reading, and the National Education Association celebrates Read Across America on March 2 with fun events in schools, libraries, and community centers around the U.S.
Do you need some tips to get started? Please see this post for a fuller exploration of Jim Trelease’s read-aloud insights, but here are a few for now:
- Use plenty of expression when reading: You can use your voice to reflect the meaning of the text. Use a soft voice for gentle characters and moving moments. Use a loud voice to show strong emotion or to emphasize adventure or excitement.
- Adjust your pace to fit the story: Read slowly to bring attention to beautiful language and imagery. Read more quickly to show movement and action.
- Preview the book by reading it to yourself ahead of time: This way, you’ll be more comfortable when you start to read it aloud. Reading it to yourself a few times will help you plan how the story might sound when it is spoken.
OK, so you’re intrigued. Reading to your baby in the womb seems like a fun way to connect with your expected child. But did you know there’s a heap of research that supports the benefits of this practice? We thought we’d give you a quick breakdown of some of these findings, and point you toward further details.
You might also want to check out this fascinating TED.com talk by Annie Murphy Paul. It’s a synopsis of the latest discoveries in the exciting field of fetal origins.
The Benefits of Prenatal Reading
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.
- See: Effects of Experience on Fetal Voice Recognition.
- Babies learn first and second languages by hearing them from the womb.
- When they’re born, their cries contain the sound “fingerprint” of their native language—they actually cry with an accent!
- Newborns can distinguish between their native language(s) and languages that are unfamiliar.
- See Newborns’ Cry Melody Is Shaped by Their Native Language, and also: The Roots of Bilingualism in Newborns.
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.
- There’s lots of research in this area. See: Prenatal Maternal Speech Influences Newborns’ Perception of Speech Sounds, and A Melodic Contour Repeatedly Experienced by Human Near-Term Fetuses Elicits a Profound Cardiac Reaction One Month after Birth, and Aspects of Fetal Learning and Memory.
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.
- See: Fetal Responses to Induced Maternal Relaxation During Pregnancy.
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 baby becomes accustomed to these hormones and mimics the mother’s positive physiological response.
- 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.
- See: Prenatal Bases of Development of Speech and Language and Prenatal Stimulation.
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.
- See: Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children.
- 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.
- It’s also an opportunity for others (grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends) to get involved in the prenatal bonding process.
- In the bigger picture, family reading helps establish a culture in which literacy and language are a priority.
- See, again: Prenatal Bases of Development of Speech and Language and Prenatal Stimulation.
The Research Confirms: It’s Never Too Early!
Pretty convincing, isn’t it? Now that you’ve seen all the research that supports in utero reading, it seems the real question is, why wouldn’t an expectant family read to their baby before birth? It’s so clearly the right thing to do!
Lev Vygotsky is certainly not a household name, but if you are a parent who talks and talks to your baby, you have intuitively stumbled upon the groundbreaking research territory of this brilliant cognitive theorist. Vygotsky’s study of babies and young children in the early 20th century led him to conclude that the best learning takes place when the learner is guided and supported while taking on something new by what he called “a more knowledgeable other.” Parents help their children construct their knowledge of language by introducing them to new words, and by modeling intonation and expression of voice, facial expression, and hand gestures. So, just by talking and talking, you are drawing your child along in his language learning and cognitive development, supporting his acquisition of new words, and introducing him to all the benefits of communicating with other people.
Of course, this communication can start even before your child is born. We know that babies can hear voices from inside the womb, and it is the mother’s voice that is heard most often and most clearly. During the last trimester, your baby will become familiar with the unique intonation, melody, and cadence of your voice. Research shows that the baby in the womb responds to repetition and rhythm, so by reading a poetic story you will be introducing your child to the beauty of language, and to the exciting world of human interaction. Once your baby is born, you can enrich his auditory experience by pointing out illustrations and objects that will help him to assign a visual image to the words he has become familiar with.
Reading a rhythmic story to a baby in the womb is also important to his brain development, building the foundation for future speaking, reading, and thinking. Here’s the amazing science that explains why. Months before birth, a baby is tuned in to his mother’s voice and the rhythmic sound of her heartbeat. The developing nerves in the baby’s ears are connected to his brain, and the stimulation caused by sounds creates new neural pathways as the baby grows. When sounds are repetitive, rhythmic, and familiar, the pathways are defined and strengthened. So by reading a story or poem over and over again, you are creating and reinforcing pathways in your baby’s brain, and these will lay the groundwork for continued learning and development. The research shows definitively that babies who are read a rhythmic story regularly in the last trimester, remember and are soothed by the same story after birth!
If you’ve followed our blog and podcasts, you know we’ve spoken a lot about the detriments of babies’ interacting with an artificial device such as a tablet, phone or computer monitor (see Interactive? Parts 1 and 2). And recently, more evidence supporting the importance of human vs. electronic interaction was provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which reviewed hundreds of research studies done since 1999 on the effects of TV on babies and toddlers. Consider the following statement from the AAP:
“Pediatricians should urge parents to avoid television viewing for children under the age of 2 years. Although certain television programs may be promoted to this age group, research on early brain development shows that babies and toddlers have a critical need for direct interactions with parents and other significant caregivers (e.g., child care providers) for healthy brain growth and the development of appropriate social, emotional, and cognitive skills. Therefore, exposing such young children to television programs should be discouraged.”
There is no doubt: when it comes to your child’s language learning and cognitive development, nothing comes close to the rich and loving interactions your child shares with you and the other “more knowledgeable others” in his life. So keep talking and talking to your baby, before and after birth. You’ll be glad you did . . . and your new friend Lev Vygotsky would be so proud!