How to Raise a Nerdy Book Lover by Susan Lupone Stonis and Jacqueline Boyle
If you’re reading this post on Nerdy Book Lover, then we can assume you’re a lover of books. And if you are a parent, it goes without saying that you’re passing this love on to your kids. But if you or someone you love is expecting a baby, you might be intrigued to know that you can introduce the wonderful world of books to your little one even before birth. Yes, an abundance of research over the last several years has shown that babies in the third trimester of pregnancy can hear and recognize words spoken by their mother (and father and others, too), and remember them after birth. The benefits of this practice for baby and family are immediate and long-lasting:
Your baby will become familiar with your unique voice.
- Research shows that babies recognize the voice of their mother at birth and can distinguish their mother’s voice from that of a stranger. See: Effects of Experience on Fetal Voice Recognition.
Your baby will begin to learn language.
- Hearing speech patterns and rhythms in the womb begins to teach babies their primary language. See this article that lists several related studies.
- Babies learn first and second languages by hearing them from the womb. See: The Roots of Bilingualism in Newborns.
- When they’re born, their cries contain the sound “fingerprint” of their native language—they actually cry with an accent! See: Newborns’ Cry Melody Is Shaped by Their Native Language.
A familiar, rhythmic story will soothe your newborn.
- Newborn babies show a clear preference for the rhythm and melody of a song or poem that they heard regularly from the womb.
- Babies actually remember a rhythmic poem or story that they heard during the last trimester for up to four weeks after birth, and they’re measurably calmed by that familiar story.
- There’s lots of research in this area. See: Prenatal Maternal Speech Influences Newborns’ Perception of Speech Sounds, and A Melodic Contour Repeatedly Experienced by Human Near-Term Fetuses Elicits a Profound Cardiac Reaction One Month after Birth, and Aspects of Fetal Learning and Memory.
When you take time to relax and read, your baby relaxes, too.
- When an expectant mother’s heartbeat and breathing slow down, her baby responds physiologically, endocrinologically, and neurologically.
- These responses have a positive effect on the baby’s growth and development.
- See: Fetal Responses to Induced Maternal Relaxation During Pregnancy.
Bonding with your baby prenatally benefits her future health and emotional well-being.
- When a pregnant woman feels love for her expected child in the womb, she releases endorphins (“feel good” hormones), which trigger the same hormone release in the baby.
- The baby becomes accustomed to these hormones and mimics the mother’s positive physiological response.
- The result is a baby who has unhindered physical, cognitive, and neurological growth, and who is born with a general sense of safety and well-being.
- See: Prenatal Bases of Development of Speech and Language and Prenatal Stimulation.
The more words your baby hears, the better adjusted and more successful she will be in life.
- There is a direct correlation between the amount that parents talk to babies and their academic and social success.
- The more words a baby hears in the early years, the more advanced her language and literacy development will be in the future.
- See: Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children.
Reading to your child before and after birth strengthens family and social bonds.
- Establishing a routine around reading creates a sacred, centered, regular time devoted to you and your child.
- This helps expectant parents and siblings develop a relationship with the baby before birth, easing the transition into parenthood and siblinghood.
- It’s also an opportunity for others (grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends) to get involved in the prenatal bonding process.
- In the bigger picture, family reading helps establish a culture in which literacy and language are a priority.
- See, again: Prenatal Bases of Development of Speech and Language and Prenatal Stimulation.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently publicly urged parents to read aloud to their children daily and to begin as soon as possible. This practice, they say, stimulates early brain development and helps build important language, literacy and social skills. We suspect that an announcement from the AAP about reading even before birth is not far behind.
“So what should I read to my baby in the womb?”
Choose a book that has a simple rhythm that’s easy for you to read and will be soothing music to your baby’s ears. In many of the research studies that we’ve reported here, babies in the womb were regularly read nursery rhymes. The short, simple, repetitive lines heard before birth were learned and remembered later by the newborns. As a bonus, these babies were soothed and calmed by the familiar language they heard before birth.
Using a book with visual appeal to a newborn is also important. Bright and colorful board books will capture a baby’s attention, and the chunky design and easy-to-grasp pages are baby friendly. When she’s still inside the womb, your voice and the fun and lively text will be the main attraction, but once she’s born your baby will have the incredible experience of blending the familiar text with beautiful and supporting illustrations. We’ve even produced the perfect board book for reading before and after birth, Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be.
Establishing a regular reading routine before birth is one of the very best things you can do for your baby, and as with anything, developing a comfort level with reading aloud takes practice. What better time to practice than when your baby is closer to you than she will ever be again? Ten to 15 minutes a day is all that’s needed to grow a lifelong reader and Nerdy Book Lover, and as the American Academy of Pediatrics tells us, the benefits are immeasurable.
Come visit our blog, The Reading Womb, for lots of in-depth information about reading to babies in utero!