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.
Is there a budding family on your holiday list? An excited pregnant someone and/or her partner? If someone you love is expecting a baby, there’s one present that gives the gifts of parental bonding, early learning, and joyful anticipation all rolled into one: a book to read to the baby in the womb.
If you’ve been following our blog, you know that the research says that the best stories for reading to your baby before birth are those that are rhythmic, rhyming, and repetitive. Babies in utero respond best to this type of auditory stimulation, and studies deﬁnitively prove that these kinds of stories are the best remembered and have the most soothing effect on newborns! The following list includes fun rhyming stories that parents and baby will enjoy before and after birth.
The Bear books, including and Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? and Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?, by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle, are an excellent example of the type of story that’s perfect for reading to babies before and after birth. The poetic meter and repetitious verse will create the neural pathways in baby’s brain that will lay the foundation for future language learning. Author Bill Martin Jr. and illustrator Eric Carle have collaborated to create many other books with beautiful illustrations that will engage babies and adults alike.
And then there’s the beloved Sandra Boynton, the author and illustrator of many fun and melodic board books, including The Going to Bed Book and Moo Baa La La La. These books, with their lively illustrations and all-around silliness, are bound to become cherished additions to your child’s story repertoire.
With so many wonderful choices, it shouldn’t be hard to find a book that you enjoy reading aloud as much as your baby loves hearing. Keep in mind that these are the stories that your little one will become familiar with and will request again and again once she’s born. Right now, your baby is a captive audience, snuggled up all safe and warm in your “reading womb.” She waits to hear the beautiful sound of your voice and the beloved story, a magical combination that she’ll respond to and that research shows will help her cognitive and language development.
Still can’t decide? Well, it just so happens there’s already a book that’s supported by research and expressly designed for reading to babies in utero and after they’re born. This critically acclaimed book was recently honored with a prestigious gold medal from the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards and has been inspiring expectant parents all over the globe to begin reading aloud to their babies before birth. Can’t Wait to Show you has become a beloved family favorite, a cherished storytime staple, and a beautiful little book that has sparked an incredible phenomenon of bonding with babies, prenatally and beyond, through language and literacy.
Now, just for our dear readers, we’re offering a holiday special: $3 off the regular price on Amazon! Just enter promo code 6KIVA96K at checkout. And please, whether this copy is for yourself or for a loved one, we’d LOVE you to share your experience with your Belly Book. By email, on Facebook, or with an Amazon review, please give us your before-and-after pictures and stories. Thank you and Happy Holidays!
A while back we mentioned the TED Talk, “What We Learn Before We’re Born,” given by Annie Murphy Paul in July 2011 and posted on TED.com in November. Today we want to focus in on this excellent presentation and highlight the bits that really excite us as advocates of reading to babies in utero.
Ms. Paul is a science writer for The New York Times and TIME Magazine, and she’s written a book, Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives. In her talk she explains the emerging scientific field called fetal origins, which studies the ways that health and well-being are affected by one’s experience in the womb.
Many elements of a pregnant mother’s environment, from the foods she eats to the stressful situations she encounters, can have lasting effects on her growing baby’s future adaptation to its world. But, says Ms. Paul, “one of the most fascinating insights I took from this work is that we’re all learning about the world even before we enter it.”
And that includes, of course, learning language! She discusses some of the research findings that we’ve talked about here, such as this one from way back in 1985, in which researchers had 16 pregnant mothers read Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat to their bellies twice a day for the last 6 weeks of pregnancy. When the babies were born, they showed by sucking response that they much preferred to hear their mothers read the familiar Dr. Seuss story than one they hadn’t heard from the womb.
Ms. Paul also mentioned this favorite study of ours that found that newborns cry in the accent of their mother’s language. Her comment on the implications of this is fascinating:
Now, why would this kind of fetal learning be useful? It may have evolved to aid the baby’s survival. From the moment of birth, the baby responds most to the voice of the person who is most likely to care for it—its mother. It even makes its cries sound like the mother’s language, which may further endear the baby to the mother, and which may give the baby a head start in the critical task of learning how to understand and speak its native language.
We love the attention that Annie Murphy Paul is bringing to the subject of fetal origins and learning. Even though there’s a wealth of scientific evidence (just check out our Research links to the right!) to show that babies begin absorbing elements of language in utero, there’s nothing like a lively, engaging speaker—who’s a mother herself—bringing science home to our everyday lives. Ms. Paul explains all the research in a cozy, comfortable manner that is easily accessible to us nonscientific types, and her message couldn’t be any clearer: Babies in the womb are paying attention! Your expected child is a captive audience who is poised, listening and ready to learn, and it is you, the expectant parent, who is your child’s very first teacher. Any teacher worth her salt knows the importance of reading aloud to children and its powerful impact on language and literacy development.
Annie Murphy Paul concludes her talk, “Learning is one of life’s most essential activities, and it begins much earlier than we ever imagined.” So very true, Annie, and we’re sure you’ll agree . . . it’s never too early to read to your baby!
Although the majority of babies are still raised in a traditional mother/father household, we know there are many strong families that represent unique variations on the parenting theme. Lots of homes include extended family members who are heavily involved in raising the child. A single parent might be helped out by a best friend or roommate. More and more kids are raised by two mommies or two daddies, perhaps with a surrogate mother. And siblings can contribute substantially to the care of baby brothers and sisters.
With the agreement of the expectant mother, anyone who intends to take a large part in caring for the coming baby can also begin reading to it before it’s born. He or she can start the bonding process early and, after the birth, experience the newborn’s response to the familiar voice and story. This will help soothe both baby and grownup when they spend time together without the birth mother, whose voice would naturally be best known to the baby.
Probably the most notable co-caregivers today are grandparents, and especially grandmothers. It’s cool to be a grandma now! When Goldie Hawn first became a grandmother, she balked at the title because “It’s a word that has so many connotations of old age and decrepitude.” Her son gave her the nickname Glam-ma and it stuck—and became a fashionable term. The phenomenon of grandbaby showers is becoming widespread, as a way of honoring the initiation into grandparenthood and, more practically, to help prospective grandparents prepare their homes for the visiting baby and even for childcare.
Substantial childcare on the part of grandparents has become a fact of life under the present economic conditions that force so many parents to work fulltime. A University of Toronto study found that close to 7% of all American grandparents provide extensive caregiving—of 30 or more hours a week—while not being the primary caregivers. According to the Pew Research Center, 1 in 10 children in the U.S. now lives with a grandparent, and in 41% of these households the grandparent is the primary caregiver.
So, go ahead, Nana and Pop-pop! Start snuggling up with your daughter(/in-law) and reading a rhythmic story, maybe something comical or that gives you the warm-fuzzies. Billy Crystal wrote his well-known I Already Know I Love You, addressed to his coming grandchild, when his daughter was expecting. This poem of loving anticipation might appeal to any prospective grandfather. Anne Bowen’s I Loved You Before You Were Born is told from the grandmother’s perspective, as is Karen Hill’s Grandmother’s Book of Promises. Or choose your favorite poetry—anything rhythmic, with or without rhyme, that adds to your joy in this experience.
Stay tuned for part 2, where we discuss Savvy Aunties of all kinds, baby’s big brother or sister, and other caregivers who go beyond the traditional family.
The findings couldn’t be clearer: The more words your baby is exposed to before age three, the better she will do in school. Children from vocabulary-rich households are definitely more successful both academically and socially than children from households where there is little talk.
Your baby is also tuned into language prenatally, and although she can’t attach meaning to the words, she can hear a variety of speech sounds, rhythms, and intonations from inside the womb. By talking to your unborn baby you will be helping her build a strong foundation for learning to speak, listen, and eventually read.
Consider the innovative research done by Drs. Betty Hart and Todd Risley at the University of Kansas in 1995. They followed 42 families and observed the language interactions between parents and their children, beginning when they were infants and continuing until they entered grade school. What they discovered was that in families where there was a great deal of talk, children performed well in school and, conversely, that in families where there was little talk, children were often struggling.
Other studies have since provided evidence that children who are exposed to rich vocabulary and language not only become better readers, but also excel socially. Those children who were not frequently exposed to spoken language presented a huge disadvantage in following directions, learning routines, and making friends. As a matter of fact, more than half of children with limited vocabularies at age three will have trouble learning to read later on.
There is no better place or time to start talking to your baby than when she is in your womb. The words you say now will contribute to your child’s language development. Once she’s born, you can help your baby to make a visual connection to the words she has heard, but for now, the best thing you can do is just talk, talk, talk. Dr. Risley says that it doesn’t matter what you say; all talk is good talk. However, the research does say that reading something rhyming and rhythmic will help your baby to remember the words she hears, giving her a head start for building her own oral language.
When your child is born, you will support her acquisition of new words by pointing out illustrations in books, and adding facial expressions and gestures. Your baby is already on the way to becoming a reader! And even better, you have created a close relationship with your child by sharing and enjoying language together. The words you’ve introduced your baby to in utero are the seeds that will eventually grow into the give-and-take of real conversation.
By exposing your child to words from the very beginning, not only will you promote her success as a reader and a student, but you’ll give her the tools to communicate and so develop close and meaningful relationships . . . in the family, in school, and beyond.
Check out this great Reading Rockets webcast, From Babbling to Books, for more info on Hart & Risley.
Pregnancy is without a doubt a time of exciting anticipation. You and your loved ones are awaiting the arrival of a new little person, a person you’re so looking forward to meeting, someone you’ve been thinking about since the moment you first discovered you were expecting. As a culture, we tend to be very future oriented, and our perceptions of pregnancy are no exception.
Even the term “expecting” carries with it the implication that something has not yet happened, that we are waiting for something in the future. A multimillion-dollar industry is banking on the expectations of couples, who make use of the nine months of waiting to purchase nursery furniture, clothing, baby-name books, car seats, strollers, and everything else to prepare for the birth of their bundle of joy. This nesting process is a necessary and fun part of becoming parents, however by focusing so intensely on the future we can sometimes lose sight of the beauty and miraculousness of the present moment. Being “with child” is one of the most amazing and powerful of human experiences, and it’s important to savor these months as much as possible.
So many of us are stressed; we rush from one commitment to the next, multitasking as we eat, drive, and talk on the phone, trying to fit more and more into each day. And many expectant parents find that this is a time when even more is added to their plates—all the responsibilities of preparing for a baby can create a very long new to-do list.
As we all know, stress can have a strong impact on our physiological and psychological well-being, but some very recent studies suggest that it is also harmful to your unborn baby. Just a few weeks ago researchers from the University of Konstanz in Germany announced findings from their study that suggest that when a pregnant woman was exposed to stress, her baby’s stress-hormone level also increased. It brings to mind some advice that our friend’s Italian grandmother gave her when she was pregnant with her first child. Nana advised her against going to a funeral, warning “the sadness isn’t good for the baby.” We laughed a little when our friend told us the story, but it turns out that this old wives’ tale has some scientific backing.
Her grandmother also said, “Have a glass of wine to help you relax. It’s good for the baby.” Now, while we certainly aren’t suggesting prenatal alcohol consumption, we do feel that there is some ancient wisdom to be found behind those words. Yes, stress may be bad for your baby, but on the positive side, relaxing is good for your baby—very, very good.
The popularity of prenatal yoga classes suggests that many pregnant women are aware that their well-being influences that of their babies. But if “go to Prenatal Yoga Class” is one more item to be added to the already chock-full pregnancy to-do list, it almost defeats the purpose, don’t you think?
Let’s put that list aside for a moment and think of some ways that you can truly relax. Yes, you are entitled as a pregnant woman to take time for yourself and your baby. It’s your right and even your duty! Pregnancy is one of those rare times in life where you can claim that you are doing something very important when you are just sitting still.
If you just sit in a comfortable place and breathe, you’re doing the most important thing of all, nurturing and caring for your baby. As you take each deep breath in, be aware that you’re also breathing for your baby. She’s taking in that life-giving oxygen and it’s nourishing her and helping her to grow. Now, be aware of the rhythm of your heart beating. Each beat brings invigorating blood to your baby, making her stronger every moment. And when you add your soothing voice to the mix, reading a calming rhythmic story, you have the formula for perfect relaxation for both mother and child.
The poetic rhythm that most closely mimics your heartbeat is iambic pentameter, or five sets of two syllables with the stress on each second syllable. Iambic pentameter was the form used most often by William Shakespeare in his sonnets, and you might like to try reading these love poems to the baby in your womb. Perhaps the most well known is Sonnet 18:
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometimes declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall death brag thou wander in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
As you read 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, and you’ll know that you’re accomplishing the most valuable task of all. Cherish this time when your baby is so close to you, when you share everything, every place and every experience. Together you are an incredible symbiotic organism, working in perfect synchrony.
Yes, there is so much to look forward to as an expectant parent, and your baby will arrive soon enough. But you have every reason to push the pause button and stop that fast-forward movement toward your baby’s birth. All you need is ten or fifteen minutes a day set aside to savor those precious moments with your baby . . . breathing, reading, and just being together.