Dad-to-be, do you know how important you are to your expected baby? Even before he’s born, you’re already playing a big role in his life just by loving him and making that felt through all the ways you care for his mother. Then there’s the touch of your warm hands on her belly; yes, he’s aware of that, too, as the June 2015 study “Fetal Behavioural Responses to Maternal Voice and Touch” found. “Stroking of the mother’s abdomen as a response to the kicking or positional movements of the fetus,” the researchers wrote, was found to be “a powerful stimulus, producing a range of fetal behavioural responses.” It’s a real interaction: he moves, you touch, he moves some more!
And then there’s your voice. Talking, laughing, singing, reading…he can hear you (in the third trimester or even earlier), and he’ll show you he recognizes your voice when he’s born. Please go back and read a couple of compelling anecdotes about this in our June 2015 post. We also mention the wonderful book Keys to Becoming a Father by Dr. William Sears, who discusses the ways a man can start forming a real and active bond with the baby before he’s born, including talking and reading to him.
He reports that some research shows that the fetus might even hear the deep male voice more clearly through the amniotic fluid than the mother’s voice. Working on that assumption, know that much of the research listed in our sidebar about the effects of the mother’s voice on her baby in the womb will also apply to the father’s voice. So talk, sing, read!
But wait—for a glimpse of the powerful influence a father can have on his baby, let’s jump ahead to after he’s born. An April 2017 study, “Father–Child Interactions at Three Months and 24 Months: Contributions to Children’s Cognitive Development at 24 Months,” has found that when fathers play an active role in babies’ early development (by playing and reading together), children perform better in cognitive tests at age two. “Even as early as three months,” a study author writes, “these father–child interactions can positively predict cognitive development almost two years later, so there’s something probably quite meaningful for later development, and that really hasn’t been shown much before.”
How do fathers contribute differently to their children’s learning than mothers? The study said that previous “observational studies have suggested that even though parents display similarities in their interaction styles, father–child interactions have a distinct quality: more stimulating, vigorous, and arousing in comparison to mother–child interactions. Their interactive episodes promote their child’s risk-taking and exploration tendencies, which in turn may facilitate the development of children’s cognitive skills.”
A segment of the study’s observation of father–child interaction concentrated on reading, which especially interested us, and the authors report: “Our findings from the book session link to evidence which suggests that the provision of rich language experiences and educational references support cognitive and learning skills.” In other words, reading aloud to the youngest babies is very good for their development—in so many ways, as we’re learning from so many early-literacy sources—and it has a special flavor when it’s done by Dad!
So, if a father can provide “rich language experiences,” in his own, particularly “stimulating, vigorous” way, through reading to his baby right from the beginning, and if your baby is already hearing your distinctly fatherly voice from inside the womb, it’s safe to assume that you, Dad-to-be, are already playing that essential role in his development.
That takes care of the sciencey side of things. But the magic of bonding with the baby in the womb goes deeper than that. If you adopt a nightly story time during pregnancy, your voice, like his mother’s, will become familiar to the growing baby, and after he’s born, studies show that he’ll recognize and be comforted when he hears you “in person.”
He’ll also recognize the familiar patterns and rhyming vowels of stories he’s heard repeatedly from the womb, and you’ll be helping him develop early language, cognitive, and social skills. As a brand-new, maybe slightly stunned father, you’ll be able to experience this amazing connection right away, and at the same time watch its soothing effect on your newborn.
Reading to an unseen listener might feel funny at first, but you’ll find that sharing this special reading time with your partner and expected child will become a loving family routine, the cornerstone of family bonding for many years to come. And you won’t be alone: many dads are jumping on the prenatal-reading bandwagon. What better way to start finding and flexing your unique, irreplaceable fathering muscles?
Not just for mothers-to-be! Make Can’t Wait to Show You your own, for 25 percent off on Amazon with promo code DadsRead, now through June 30. Happy Father’s Day!
There’s no better way to for us to inspire you, the expectant father, to read to your baby before birth than for you to hear from fellow daddies who have experienced the magic of in-utero reading firsthand. We just happen to have some amazing stories from a couple of incredible dads-to-be who bonded with their expected child by reading to Mommy’s baby bump. We’ll wow you with their stories first, and then tell you all about the evidence supporting this practice and also how to begin!
Meet Everett Bowes. He’s a first-time father who, as you can see from the photo below, is truly enjoying the benefits of having read to his son before he was born. Everett heard about the benefits of prenatal storytime, and…well you can hear it from him:
Early in my wife’s pregnancy we heard about the benefits of reading to a baby still in the womb. . . . I read to Emerson every day. In fact, I often read to him multiple times per day. When he was just a few weeks old I read it to him for the first time outside the womb. We were shocked at his response. He seemed to recognize the story immediately, including all of my silly accents for the different characters. He made sounds and waved his arms excitedly as we read. Babies his age don’t smile like this, yet he wouldn’t stop smiling, squealing, and waving. We couldn’t believe how clearly he recognized the story. This is one of our most treasured memories.
See the whole beautiful Storehouse story here.
Everett’s story is an amazing example of an exciting trend. More and more expectant fathers are bonding with their sons and daughters before birth through the power of their voice. And in that incredible moment when their newborn first responds to Daddy’s voice and a familiar story or song, the baby/daddy bond comes to life.
Here’s another one. Thanks to Brigid Hubberman of the Family Reading Partnership in Ithaca, New York, for sharing this wonderful anecdote about a dad she knows who regularly read The Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle to his baby in utero. She told us:
After a long and difficult labor, when baby was finally born by C-section, the new dad found himself exhausted, alone and panicked in the recovery room with a shrieking new baby. Looking down he felt the words well up, and found himself say to the baby, “In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf.” Immediately, the baby quieted down and looked into her father’s eyes as he told the story of the caterpillar that turned into a butterfly. There is no doubt that this baby was soothed by the familiarity and comfort of her father’s voice reading (by heart) a story that was already her own.
Almost convinced? Well, here’s the research part. You’ve probably heard of Dr. Sears, the world-renowned pediatrician who wrote Keys to Becoming a Father. He says, “Studies have shown that babies whose fathers talked to them before birth attended more to their father’s voices soon after birth, perhaps indicating that the sound of the father’s voice had been imprinted on the mind of the preborn baby.”
According to Dr. Sears, “Some researchers suspect that the preborn baby actually may hear the father’s voice better than the mother’s, because the amniotic fluid transmits the resonant low-pitched male voice more easily than a higher feminine voice.” So there’s the scientific evidence you might have needed to know that your baby will hear and learn your voice from inside Mommy’s tummy. (More about this fascinating research on the sidebar of our blog if you are interested.)
After reading all that, we’re certain that you are chomping at the bit to get started, right? So, how does a dad begin? First he should designate a special and regular time each day to snuggle up to his expectant partner and her belly. (Make sure to ask her first!) Choose a story that is rhythmic and repetitive; the research says that babies respond best to stories with an inherent beat. (We have some excellent suggestions in our Reading Roundup post.)
Read the same story or poem each time and we promise that your unique daddy voice and the story will soon become familiar to your baby. Also, there is some evidence that it may help the acoustics if you keep your mouth right up close to the belly.
Once your baby is born, the magic will begin. She will reward her daddy for his efforts by becoming immediately calmed and soothed as he reads the story she’s already come to love. What an incredible connection you will have created with your child!
Reading to an unseen listener may feel odd at first, but you’ll find that sharing this special reading time with your partner and expected child will become a loving family routine, the cornerstone of family bonding for many years to come. And as you can see, you won’t be alone. Many dads are jumping on the prenatal-reading bandwagon. If a father reads to his unborn child every night, he will have a special opportunity to bond with his child and establish a routine that can be continued long after the child is born.
For some specific instructions from an actual dad, please check out this awesome blog post from Dad’s Adventure.
And you must check out Daddy Elvin Freyte’s blog, Majendome. He’s started a powerful movement to inspire fathers around the globe to embrace this practice.
Now you’ve heard the stories and seen the evidence that supports the power of reading to your baby in utero. The rewards will continue throughout your child’s lifetime as you establish a Daddy/baby storytime that will continue for years to come.
So go ahead, Daddy-to-be — read to your baby! When he is born and you say hello, he’ll be thinking, “Hey, I know you!” And when you share the story he’s heard so many times before, your little one will become an alert and attentive audience, captivated by his daddy’s voice, the voice that is yours and yours alone.
Books, of course!
If you know an expectant father—maybe your own partner—he’s likely to be actively involved in the pregnancy and already forming a bond with his baby in the womb. And if you’ve found your way to The Reading Womb, you must be intrigued by the wealth of evidence in the media today demonstrating the benefits of reading to babies in utero.
Yet another new report came out in February, from the BBC News, that attests to babies’ development of speech skills while still in the womb. A team of French scientists found that babies at 28 weeks’ gestation could distinguish specific syllables, as well as the difference between male and female voices.
So why not celebrate Father’s Day early by giving the expectant dad the opportunity to explore this idea for himself?
You could start with some nonfiction on the subject, like Keys to Becoming a Father, by Dr. William Sears. “Fathering begins before birth,” says Dr. Sears, and he discusses the ways a man can start forming a real and active bond with the baby long before he’s born—including talking and reading to him.
“Studies have shown,” says Dr. Sears, “that babies whose fathers talked to them before birth attended more to their father’s voices soon after birth, perhaps indicating that the sound of the father’s voice had been imprinted on the mind of the preborn baby.”
Please check out our links in the sidebar to learn about the research that shows that babies in utero can recognize and remember stories read aloud to them, especially in the last trimester of pregnancy. After birth, newborns respond to these same stories, especially when they’re read in the familiar voices they heard from the womb.
“But can he really hear me in there?”
Yes, he can! Especially if Daddy snuggles up close and speaks clearly to the belly. And according to Dr. Sears, “Some researchers suspect that the preborn baby actually may hear the father’s voice better than the mother’s, because the amniotic fluid transmits the resonant low-pitched male voice more easily than a higher feminine voice.”
Does Daddy feel funny reading to the bump? Help him get lost in the fun of language. There are so many wonderful books that contain the rhythms and rhymes that the experts say are recognized and preferred by babies before and after birth. Find the books you think he’ll really enjoy reading—you can’t go wrong with Dr. Seuss! And we’ve got lots more recommendations in our last post and this older post, too.
This invitation to bond with his baby can be a precious gift for the father-to-be. It’s the beginning of a special reading time he can share with his child for years to come, and he’ll also be helping him develop early language and even social skills.
But the magic of in utero bonding goes even deeper than that. Daddy’s voice, like Mommy’s, will become familiar to the growing baby during the third trimester of pregnancy, or even earlier. After he’s born, studies show that he’ll recognize and be comforted by their voices. He’ll also recognize the familiar patterns and rhyming vowels of stories he’s heard repeatedly from the womb. The new father will be able to experience this amazing connection right away, and at the same time watch its soothing effect on his precious new baby.