Why you should read to your unborn baby and infant?

In the excitement and expectation of a few brand new (little) Book Club members, (due very soon!), we discuss in short today why reading to your unborn child is important, and why you should continue reading to them after they are born.

Infants start physically interacting with books as soon as their development allows for them to begin reaching for things (around 4 months of age), but interaction with the content of a book starts even before that! Infants may quickly start responding to a storybook by making “cooing” sounds, and all too soon you can teach them to help turn pages and hold the book themselves.

Good books to introduce are soft-covered (fabric) books, board books and bath books. Board books with monochrome illustrations, and Touch-and-Feel board books are ideal as infants (and toddlers) learn and develop mainly through using all their senses (especially their mouths!).

Children typically move through several stages as they learn to read. Emergent readers (birth to 6 years of age) learn about our writing system – how it works, how letters and sounds relate, and the meaning that is conveyed through words. But what does this have to do with in-utero reading?

Although it will not magically make your baby able to read the moment he/she is born, regular reading to your unborn infant creates a habit of family reading time, a time for you to unwind and relax (which benefits both you as well as your baby), and it creates a bonding experience for you with your baby, all which can (and should) continue after birth.

From around 18 weeks of pregnancy your baby will be able to start hearing sounds. As the ability to hear develops quickly from here on, soon they are able to recognize voices. It is believed that after they are born, babies can remember, and respond to stories that were read to them while in the womb.

Reading to your unborn child helps develop early language learning, and sparks an early interest in learning. It promotes brain activity as they listen to their mother’s voice, and it strengthens the neural connections that are busy forming as the baby develops. It can evoke certain emotions (and a response!) in your baby, and can therefore also calm your baby (and you!) whenever they undergo a period of stressful growth.

Reading skills are built on neural pathways created and established in the brain through speech, and as new pathways and connections are developed between different areas of the brain.

“The emergence of this network starts as early as in utero. When babies are exposed to the muffled sounds of speech” (Ozernov-Palchik & Gaab 2016).

Repetition is proven to help us remember things, and as books are read and reread to your unborn, it not only helps develop their memory, but also improves their concentration and supports their language learning once they’re born.

Continuing to read to your child after birth, as well as your child’s interaction with books, words and illustrations, help set the foundation they need to develop a love of reading later on. Babies are constantly learning about the world they are in, and as you continue to read to them, you help them make sense of it. And not only do they build their vocabulary, they also learn how to communicate.

A little later, when they are toddlers, with constant interaction and communication with your child while reading a book, they will start naming familiar items on the pages (for example, nose, ears, eyes, dog, car, bird, baby, etc.). They can now start answering questions about what they see (“read”) in the book, even if they don’t respond verbally, but with gestures. They are now able to select the book they would like to read based on their recognition of their favourite books, and they might learn the rhyme (or other words) found in it. They might start “reading” (pretending to read) a book on their own, maybe to a pet or a sibling (even if the book is upside down, or they make up their own story), and are able to turn the pages themselves. Board books are still suggested for this age – they are just so much easier to handle for little fingers, and they don’t tear easily (as do picture books).

Reading to your unborn supports all this development.

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that reading ability is not a race – just as kids learn to walk or tie their shoe laces or ride a bike at different ages, they learn to read at different ages and will spend varying amounts of time at each stage of development on their journey in learning how to read. The key is to teach your child to interact with books (and reading) to instil a love for reading – if a child loves books and loves to read, he/she will want to spend time in it and with continued practice will soon become proficient at it.

I hope you feel encouraged to start reading to your unborn child right away! We certainly have the perfect book for you to share with him or her in our awesome library!

Wishing you all the best with your delivery! I can’t wait to meet that new little body!

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


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