Since my girls were born, reading books have been a part of our daily routine, from See, Touch, Feel books to Play a Sound books, to Alphabet books. We even used sign language to communicate the words so it was an all-encompassing experience that I was super proud of. But it never occurred to me to read to them while they were in the womb. Yes, I gently spoke to them often, like asking one twin to take her foot out of her sister’s face (we’d seen it on the ultrasound), but picking up a book and reading to my unborn babies wasn't on my radar and when I found out, “early literacy” took on a whole new meaning.
But what are the perks to reading to your baby while pregnant, and what is the difference between reading an actual book versus your baby hearing your voice throughout the day?
What Reading To Your Baby In The Womb Gives Them
“Reading to an unborn baby provides an additional form of language stimulation that is more structured,” says Fadiyla Dopwell, M.D., a developmental-behavioral pediatrician. It’s a fact that while in utero your baby can hear your voice and heartbeat. Their language skills are already developing, including their familiarity with vowel sounds. But reading to them not only reinforces their language in a structured way, it also deepens your connection. Dopwell says, “Daily reading with an unborn baby will also help in further developing a secure parent-child attachment. It provides a tranquil opportunity for baby and mother to bond with one another.”
As your baby gets familiar with your voice, they also grow in the words they are processing, even in utero. This is giving them a head start on critical thinking and word recognition. The amount of words your baby can understand at different ages determines if they are meeting language milestones. “Many studies document the benefits of early literacy exposure on language and literacy development. By setting this precedence early, the baby is being offered an advantage,” Dopwell says.
And keep in mind that content doesn’t really matter.
Read Whatever You Want During Pregnancy, Just Read It Out Loud
If you are already a reader and enjoy magazines or your favorite fiction author, just add reading aloud to your pastime instead of reading it to yourself. Dopwell adds, “A mother studying for an exam can read the textbook/study guide that she is reviewing. Or she can read the magazine article she is browsing. It does not have to be baby-catered reading or a routinized experience.” You’ll have plenty of time to focus on the kiddie books your baby will love. For now, you don’t have to change a thing regarding the type of content you enjoy. It’s a win that you get to bond with your baby and enhance their development at the same time.
If you’re wondering how often you should read aloud, Dopwell says, “In all honesty, you can never get too much exposure to reading. But realistically it’s most feasible to read one or two board books daily as mother and baby unwind for the day.” But it isn’t just restricted to mom. If your husband or partner or your baby’s siblings want to join in, they should have at it. This will enhance your bond as a family and help the baby to get familiar with their voices as well. “There has also been anecdotal information that shows newborn infants tend to recognize voices of those who were frequently around his/her mother prenatally.” Whoever’s turn it is to hold the book, Dopwell recommends using a neutral and calm tone, but she adds that “baby will appreciate an animated reader also.”
A fun activity you can try is to pick a board book that you’d want to read to your baby every night — for us, it’s Cuddle Bear. Read it daily, and notice at what stage your baby starts to recognize and respond to your nightly read. They may even start to react to it in the womb.
Fadiyla Dopwell, M.D., developmental-behavioral pediatrician