It’s been five whole years since we published our twin posts, Libraries, Our Early-Literacy Champions, Part 1 and Part 2. We needed back-to-back posts to report on all the exciting initiatives that libraries had been rolling out at that time to promote reading to babies right from birth.
We naturally took the opportunity back then to point out that all the benefits of this practice listed by the American Library Association and others are enhanced if parents start reading to their babies even before birth. One library-affiliated group we gushed about, the Family Reading Partnership in New York state, had already established a program specifically to encourage reading to babies in the womb—and Waiting for Baby is still going strong.
Well, five years later, we’re thrilled to find an explosion of library programs for expectant parents! First, watch this video about the Read to the Bump program in North Liberty, Iowa. Now check out that library’s fabulous page about its Womb Literacy (be still our hearts!) program, and don’t miss the info on the adorable Waddle Walk fundraiser mentioned in the video. And hey, pregnant storytime seems to be big in Iowa; here’s Iowa City Library’s wonderful Belly Babies page. Our nation’s capital is showing the way forward, too: DC Public Library’s STAR (sing, talk and read to baby) program includes the Expecting a Baby stage in its reading-level guide and book lists. You get the picture, and there are probably many more great examples springing up all over.
Mother’s Day Early Bird Special! Enter promo code Mom2Bday on Amazon for 20% off Can’t Wait to Show You through May 31, 2017.
Particularly exciting for us at the Reading Womb is the Early Literacy Initiative at the Esperanza Acosta Moreno branch of the El Paso, Texas, library. This program is dedicated to educating expectant mothers “on the impact of prenatal reading while developing a routine to jumpstart your child’s literacy. The library provides all of the materials necessary to introduce children to words and music essentially through prenatal storytime,” including our very own Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be. We could not be more proud and honored!
The most important aspect of this distinction is that the initiative was made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Texas State Library and Archives Commission for 2017. We never knew about this pilot program until its lovely coordinator quietly put in her grant-funded order for a supply of books. What stronger testament to the clear and proven benefits of reading to babies in the womb could there be than the readiness of library organizations to foster and fund programs to teach young families about the practice?
Yes, the message is spreading: literacy can and should be nurtured not only in toddlers and babies but babies in utero, too. Abundant research over the last decade has shown that babies in the third trimester are an active audience. They can discern, remember, and learn what they hear from inside the womb. Learning doesn’t begin at birth but before birth, and that means early literacy work should now include pre-birth literacy, or, as we like to call it, preliteracy.
But the nice thing is that no “work” is required for expectant parents—just cozy, snuggly reading time with the baby bump. Although you can’t yet see your little one, she is raptly listening to and learning from your words. You don’t have to think about how those words are laying the foundation for her social and cognitive development. You’ll feel the love flowing through your words, and so will she—maybe even more if you practice amid the good vibrations at your local library.
So check out your library—does it offer prenatal story hour yet? If not, make the suggestion, and send your children’s librarian the link to this post!
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.
We talked recently about Deepak Chopra’s beautiful book, Magical Beginnings, Enchanted Lives: A Holistic Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth. Another thing we love about this book is that Deepak devotes so much attention to bonding with your baby, both before and after birth. For example . . .
“Use all five senses to connect with your baby and create a nurturing environment for both of you.”
In our August 2016 post, we mentioned the very real sensory connection mothers have with their babies in the womb that researchers have been discovering over the years. For instance, this fascinating BBC article delved into research that “supports the idea that babies learn taste preferences before they are born” and why this link between mother and baby (human and animal) likely developed to enhance newborn survival. This Science Daily article cites earlier studies that showed that babies’ sense of smell also develops in the womb.
What about the sense of touch? Well, a June 2015 study, “Fetal Behavioural Responses to Maternal Voice and Touch,” reinforced findings of earlier research that found that “Newborns preferentially respond to maternal voice hours after birth, suggesting that the fetus is able to detect stimuli in utero and form memories of them.” Yes! We never get tired of hearing our message corroborated by experts!
This study is especially interesting in that it also measured (through ultrasound) fetal response when pregnant mothers touched their
baby bump. The researchers conclude, “Overall results suggest that maternal touch of the abdomen was a powerful stimulus, producing a range of fetal behavioural responses.” We love how they put their findings into a family context:
Mothers, fathers and other family members talk and even sing to the fetus throughout pregnancy with communicative intent. Many report changes in the fetal behaviour as a response to such communication. . . . Similarly to talking to the fetus, most mothers and even fathers attempt to communicate with and regulate the behaviour of the fetus via stroking of the mother’s abdomen as a response to the kicking or positional movements of the fetus. Even the expecting mothers’ mood is affected by massaging the abdomen. . . .
And this brings us back to Deepak’s important advice. We know now that babies can hear, taste, smell, and feel from inside the womb, and scientists also find that they’re sensitive to light as early as the fourth month. But you also create a “nurturing environment” for yourself and your baby in utero simply by connecting to your own five senses.
Revel in the flavors of your breakfast, your fruit, your tea. Feast your eyes on the kaleidoscopic colors at the farmer’s market. Moon around the florist’s shop taking deep, ecstatic breaths. Luxuriate in the bliss of a warm ray of sun slanting through the window. And lie back in the comfiest chair in the house and let your sweetie give you and baby-to-be some loving touch. All this (plus the resulting release of endorphins, or feel-good hormones) will communicate to your child, “All is well and calm and safe. Rest, relax, and grow, and soon you’ll join us in this beautiful world.”
If you foster calm and peace in your baby’s environment even before he’s born, the effects can last through the birth, the newborn weeks, the first year, and on into childhood. A “magical beginning” indeed!
Now please forgive a shameless plug for our book, Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be, which takes you through a journey of the five senses with your baby in the womb. Read aloud these words that let you indulge your happy anticipation, and enjoy the colorful collage-style illustrations, and you’ll truly be connecting with your senses and your unborn child.
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.
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 . . .
We stand corrected! A July 2016 article on BBC.com, Babies Start Learning Even Before They Are Born, presents a roundup of recent research findings that demonstrate the causes and effects of prenatal learning, including among different animal species. We’re always excited to read about new studies in this area, and we’re delighted to find that our February 2014 post, It’s Only Natural, contains an inaccuracy:
A very important quality that separates mammals from other creatures is our strong desire to protect and care for our young. Unlike a turtle, who lays her eggs in the sand, leaving the tiny baby turtles to return to the sea and fend for themselves alone, we mammals form a bond with our young — even before they are born — that continues for our whole lives.
We go on to tell the heartwarming story of Bella, a pregnant dolphin who whistled to her baby before and after birth, establishing not only a mother–baby bond but also a vocal signal that would be crucial to the newborn’s survival. Well, according to the BBC article, this beautiful instinct is not only a characteristic of mammals. Mother birds of various species have actually been found to communicate with their chicks still in the egg in just the same way Bella did! And fish, frogs, and salamanders have demonstrated in-egg learning too. Whether it’s telling baby animals what their mother sounds like or what their predators smell like, prenatal learning is clearly fundamental to much of the animal kingdom.
It’s now broadly acknowledged that a human baby is sensing the world from inside the womb, through sound, touch, and hormone transfer, for example. The BBC article begins by discussing how food flavors are passed from mother to baby, which is another survival mechanism shared by many animals. The discussion naturally turns to that most compelling learning capacity of all: prenatal language development. In the last trimester, babies’ ears have developed enough that they can hear, recognize, and remember sounds — especially speech sounds, and especially their own mother’s speech sounds.
The article describes some of the research we’ve mentioned in which newborns’ preferences are found to be the result of their experience before birth, so that, for instance, they prefer their mother’s voice and recognize sounds typical of their parents’ language(s) over those they weren’t exposed to in utero. Really, it’s only a variation on Bella’s natural wisdom, as well as her innate urge to bond with her little one. As with dolphins and so many animals, human family and social bonding is part of our intricate survival system, in which language plays a central role. It’s no wonder we start learning the fundamentals of language well before we’re born. As the BBC article concludes, “Science is revealing that what we learn before entering the world may give us more of a head start than once thought.”
A March 2016 article on PRI.com, Our Ability to Speak Doesn’t Begin with Our First Words. It Begins in the Womb, focuses on this, our favorite subject. It describes a 2015 Finnish study and current Canadian research that again have explored the effects of native versus nonnative speech sounds on newborns, and the implications for prenatal learning. The article quotes researcher Janet Werker of the University of British Columbia: “A lot of language crosses the uterine wall, and so by the time the baby is born, it’s not an inexperienced listener.”
Echoing the “head start on learning language” theme of the BBC article, this one goes a step further by describing the benefits to parents of understanding that, in Werker’s words, “their baby is interested in the world around them, and is interested in learning from the first moments of life. . . . And we like to think that this might make them treat their babies as the curious, involved little beings that they are.”
We couldn’t agree more! Even if expectant parents feel like they have to take it on faith that their little one is hearing and responding to their voices before birth, we know this will become common knowledge in due time, fueled by scientific findings like these and by mounting anecdotal evidence from new parents. We love the concluding words of the PRI article: “Doing well in the world starts with doing well in the womb. So you should talk to the baby bumps. . . . They will thank you later — in the words they learn from you.”
Yes! Talk, sing, and read to your bump. What better way to make this loving, nurturing connection with your baby in the womb than with a bedtime story? A rhyming and rhythmic story, read in your voice every night, will become as familiar to him as a dolphin’s whistle or a nesting wren’s warble — and will be just as comforting and reassuring to him after he’s born. Your own innate, natural instinct to communicate and bond with your baby can be reinforced by establishing a routine centered around language, right from the beginning. Your voice, plus a beautiful book, are all you need for a natural language bond.
And if reading aloud to an unseen audience doesn’t quite feel natural to you yet, just choose a book that makes you happy, whose colorful illustrations stimulate your feel-good hormones, and whose words help you to make a deep connection with your child. The combination of the engaging language and your familiar, loving voice will enhance the bond between you and your little one. By creating a relationship grounded in caring dialogue, you will naturally foster your child’s amazing drive to explore, understand, and communicate with his world.
The very best book for the purpose, we just have to say, is our own Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be. It’s not only rhythmic and rhyming, not only beautiful, but even shaped to snuggle around that “curious, involved little being” curled up inside you, listening raptly, learning avidly, and loving already.
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.