Mom-to-be, you sure have a lot to celebrate in May. First, even if you’re still carrying your little bundle on the inside on Mother’s Day, you know very well that you’re already a mother and deserve to be fussed over and pampered and given breakfast in bed (it could happen!).
Second, you have the good fortune to become a parent during this golden age of early literacy, when an abundance of research findings and expert advice about reading to babies right from birth is being offered by nonprofit groups, libraries, and government agencies. And now, more and more, that includes information about “early-early literacy.” Yes, by reading, talking, and singing to your baby before birth, you’re laying the foundation for future language and literacy skills, cognitive development and, best of all, a sweet, strong mother–child bond.
We rejoiced a few months ago when a New York Times article so prominently pointed out the benefits of reading to babies in the womb. Then we jumped up and down when we learned about all the library story hours being created just for pregnant moms. We just love all this further confirmation that reading to babies before birth is an idea whose time has come. But do you need a little more information, Mom-to-be, to be convinced of the power of reading aloud to a baby you can’t even see yet? We’ve got lots to offer!
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 him through your unique voice. As you read aloud you’ll find yourself feeling more calm as your heartbeat and breathing slow down, and you’ll immediately pass this relaxation to your baby. You’ll both feel connected, soothed, and peaceful; just like that, you’re already forming a deep bond.
To get yourself up to speed on the whys and wherefores of in utero reading, please check out the studies listed in our sidebar. For starters, here’s a quick summary of the classic research:
- 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 more 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.
On top of that, research and anecdotal evidence strongly suggest that newborn babies are soothed by a rhythmic and repetitive story or song they heard regularly during the last trimester. If your new baby is fussy, you can hold him close and read a poem or story you’ve practiced repeatedly—he’ll immediately be stilled by the familiar sounds. How reassuring would it be to have another way to comfort your newborn at your fingertips?
So start now, while you’re still practicing to be a mother, by reading to your little one even before birth. Soon you’ll see his face light up when he hears you in person! Until then, you can know he’s already listening and responding to the sweet sound of his mother’s voice.
If you’re the loved one of a mom-to-be, there’s still time to get her started with her own copy of Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be. For our Mother’s Day Special, just enter promo code Mom2Bday on Amazon for 20% off through May 31, 2017.
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!
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.
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.
Suddenly you’re pulled from your thoughts by a sound like million tinkling bells, and you turn to see an iridescent green cloud billowing out of the laundry-detergent bottle. From inside the cloud emerges a genie! He looks at you kindly, seeing that you’re overwhelmed with household duties.
“O humble, toiling one!” says the genie. “You have been working so very hard! I’m going to give you a beautiful gift.”
A gift! From a genie! What could it be?
“I am going to give you 15 minutes! Fifteen whole minutes to do with whatever you desire.” The genie looks beneficent and proud.
Your face falls. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but really? Just 15 minutes? Accepting your faltering thanks, the genie vanishes back into the detergent bottle and you return to your thoughts.
“What can I do with 15 minutes?” you wonder. “That’s not enough time to do anything! Well, I guess I could eat a whole salted-caramel cupcake, licking the frosting off first and savoring every bite . . . but I’d probably regret that. I could organize my sock and underwear drawer, but 15 minutes would barely make a dent. Hmmm.”
Well, what if we told you that with 15 minutes every day you could do something so powerful, so amazing, so truly magical that it would change your life and the life of your family forever?
Study after study is showing conclusively the incredible benefits to parents and children of having a regular storytime routine. And just 15 minutes a day is all it takes.
“Read?” you say, “I’d rather have the cupcake!” OK, eating a cupcake for 15 minutes every day does sound like fun, but over time the only thing you’ll have to show for it will be on your hips. On the other hand, the rewards of a regular storytime routine can’t be measured, and over time they only grow. For a fun infographic on the many reasons to read aloud for 15 minutes (and unfortunate statistics about how many people don’t) please check out this wonderful poster from ReadAloud.org.
All right, so you’re ready to accept the genie’s gift and pass it on to your child, but where in your day should you carve out that 15 minutes? We suggest you begin your regular reading time at bedtime. There’s been a lot of hoopla lately about the benefits of bedtime stories, and with good reason. Reading for 15 minutes at bedtime not only exposes children to new vocabulary, develops reading and language skills, promotes brain growth, inspires empathy and encourages family bonding.
It also settles children down! We’d like to see a cupcake that can do that!
There is an amazing physiological and biological phenomenon that takes place when families sit down together and snuggle around a book. Levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that gets us all riled up, are measurably reduced in both parents and children when they cuddle up together. Meanwhile, Oxytocin, the bonding hormone that makes us melt over babies (and puppies, and all things adorable), increases, making this close family time one crazy-happy 15-minute love-fest!
Better yet, it can then become a soothing sleepy-fest. We’re going to give you our usual advice about when to begin practicing your sacred storytime: even before your baby is born. Experts say that if an expectant mother settles down at the same time each evening, her baby will become conditioned to settle down at that same time. Her heartbeat and breathing will slow down at this time every night, and so will her baby’s. Add a bedtime story to the mix and you have a recipe for a newborn who is sleepy, relaxed, and calmed by the words he knows so well.
And if expectant parents read to their baby for 15 minutes each night during the last trimester, they will see the magic firsthand once the baby is born. Way back in 1986, DeCasper and Spence showed that newborns responded more positively to a familiar rhyme read to them by their mother before birth than to an unfamiliar story, and others have been expanding on these findings ever since (see numerous studies in our Research sidebar list). Most recently (reported on Brain Decoder in July 2015), researchers at the University of Salzburg conducted similar experiments with mothers, as well as strangers, reading nursery rhymes to their babies in the third trimester. They found that the sound of an unfamiliar rhyme read by a stranger increased stress responses in the newborns, but that the familiar rhymes, spoken by either their mother or a stranger, had a calming effect.
Lots of new parents we know have found the same to be true (including those who regularly read our book to their babies in utero!), and there’s a growing body of anecdotal evidence out there for the Googling, but there’s nothing like personal experience. If you’re pregnant, especially in your third trimester, why not give it a try? Snuggle up with your partner tonight, and every night, for just 15 minutes with a bedtime story — especially one that’s rhythmic and rhyming — for your expected little one. Then keep that cozy ritual going when baby arrives, and watch its effects. Does he stop crying? Turn in the direction of your voice? Move his face and body in response to the story?
Well, that’s just the beginning. If you continue that 15 minutes of shared family reading time throughout your child’s life, you won’t need a genie after all. Just a little time, your voice, and a beloved story will create real and lasting magic for your child.
Reach out for your favorite book. Reach out to a child and share a story together. Reach out to thousands of parents and give them free books to share with their children. Reach out to pediatricians and nurses across the country to educate them about the benefits to children of a regular storytime, and train them to teach this to their patients. Reach Out and Read!
Thanks to the nonprofit organization Reach Out and Read, receiving a picture book has become a regular part of many a child’s first well-baby visit. ROR “builds on the unique relationship between parents and medical providers to develop critical early reading skills in children, beginning in infancy.” It’s become mainstream practice for pediatricians to give books, right along with checkups, to young patients in over 5,000 Reach Out and Read program sites in the U.S. Participating doctors and nurses have provided almost 7 million books to children and families nationwide!
The best part is that not only are doctors and nurses providing the first book to families who may not otherwise have access to them, but they also dispense invaluable advice about the benefits of adopting a storytime routine right from the start. Reach Out and Read actively trains health care practitioners so that they can share with patients the most recent research and practices in reading aloud to children, as well as specific instructions to begin reading, talking and singing to babies as a regular part of raising a healthy child.
This wonderful organization has been reaching out for over 25 years! But most recently some major wind has been added to their sails by a strong public recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics, our country’s largest and most respected group of children’s healthcare professionals. As we reported in our June 2014 post, the AAP said that parents should read to their babies as early as possible, that reading is an “essential” element of doctor visits, and that the benefits and implications for brain development, language acquisition, and family bonding, among others, are boundless. Pediatricians were urged to convey the message that reading regularly with children is paramount to their health and well-being.
None of this was surprising to the folks at ROR, but the AAP’s public recommendation inspired the creation of a dream team of literacy advocates that further empowered their mission. This powerhouse collaborative includes not only ROR and the AAP but also Too Small to Fail, a Clinton Foundation initiative, and Scholastic Books, one of the leaders in the children’s book industry. This collaborative has been educating the public about the importance for children of early exposure to language and literacy. Their work has already had a powerful impact on parents, educators, literacy advocates, medical professionals, and policymakers across the country and around the globe.
Reach Out and Read is an “evidence-based” organization that has piloted many of its own studies to lend to the body of research supporting this practice. One such study, published in the journal Pediatrics in May 2004, found a direct correlation between the number of ROR interactions a family was exposed to during well-child visits and the number of literacy-centered activities that took place in a child’s home. They found that even “a modest literacy intervention such as ROR can have a significant impact on a child’s home literacy environment,” and that children who had a great deal of ROR interaction reported that reading was one of their favorite activities.
Just last month, the organization began another very exciting pilot study with families of babies in the NICU at Boston City Medical Center to discover the impact that regular read-aloud time has on premature infants. Previous research has shown that “premature infants are exposed to less language in utero and after birth than term infants” and that “early language exposure is essential for normal language development.” In the study, ROR and professionals at the Boston City Medical center will provide literacy-centered education and interaction for the first five years of each child’s life and measure the child’s engagement with books and reading.
This exciting pilot study builds on a recent discovery that babies in the NICU develop the language and auditory centers in their brains more quickly when their mothers read to them regularly. As found by previous studies we’ve reported here, babies learn language from their mother during the last trimester, but babies born too soon are deprived of this essential developmental period. However, it appears that these premature infants can catch up to their full-term counterparts when they hear stories, lullabies and songs for a few hours each day. By having parents read to premature babies, and then throughout their childhood, ROR hopes to add to their growing body of evidence about the positive effects that shared family storytime has on a child’s growth, development and well-being.
Of course, we at the Reading Womb always want to take it a step further! Many family practices that utilize ROR include obstetrics, and maybe someday they will also educate expectant parents about the importance of reading aloud to babies in the womb. In addition to all the benefits of in utero reading that we regularly touch upon here, the practice offers valuable support to new parents who want to incorporate storytime into their newborn’s daily schedule. All parents want to do what’s best for their baby, but when she finally arrives they may find themselves overwhelmed by all their new responsibilities. Three (or more) months of rehearsal would be a huge help!
After a period of practicing reading to their baby in utero, during that time of relatively quiet anticipation before their lives change so dramatically, reading aloud to their newborn will be one of the few tasks that new parents will feel competent in. They can fall into a storytime routine that’s comfortingly familiar — even to baby, who’s been listening avidly from inside the womb — and it will become a cherished family ritual with lifelong benefits.
Thank you for the great work that you do, Reach Out and Read, and the precious gift you’re giving to families. Your reach extends far and wide!
We couldn’t be more proud and pleased to announce that Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be, the first board book specially written and shaped for expectant parents to read to their baby in utero, has been distinguished by the Mom’s Choice Awards with a gold medal!
The Reading Womb and Belly Books wholeheartedly share Mom’s Choice’s mission of “helping families grow emotionally, spiritually and physically.” We’re proud to show off its seal of approval, which reflects “the best in family-friendly media, products and services.”
You’ve probably come across Mom’s Choice seals on your favorite kids’ books for years. In their words, “Products and services bearing the company’s mother-and-child Honoring Excellence Seal of Approval have earned the MCA distinction for helping families grow emotionally, physically and spiritually; being morally sound and promoting good will; and inspirational and uplifting.”
Here’s how the organization describes this prestigious award:
It’s our joy to acknowledge those who are fueled only by their passion to make a better world as they write an inspiring book or design a helpful product. Around the world, parents, educators, retailers and the media trust us for our product reviews and evaluations.
It truly is our passion to make a better world by helping parents understand the enormous benefits — and the intrinsic rewards — of establishing a regular family reading time even before baby is born. Reading enhances not only brain and cognitive development but the parent-child bond. Reading brings with it not only worlds of adventure and learning, but vast possibilities of connection between human beings. And the amazing fact is that the baby in the third trimester of pregnancy is already able to join in this miraculous process.
Please stop by the Mom’s Choice Winners Shop and browse their extensive catalogue, and then have a look at their Mom’s Choice Matters blog. Of course, if you haven’t already gotten your copy of Can’t Wait to Show You, you can order it here!