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By Susan Lupone Stonis and Jacqueline Boyle

Perhaps you’ve heard about some of the exciting results from recent studies that show the powerful effects of reading to babies in utero. Groundbreaking evidence proves that babies absorb elements of language while in the womb, and that a rhythmic, repetitive story read regularly during the last trimester will soothe your baby before and after he or she is born. It’s also been shown that sharing stories with babies in utero familiarizes them with the voices of their mother and other family members. By reading to your baby before birth, you’ll be participating actively in your baby’s cognitive growth while celebrating this time of joyful anticipation.

The benefits of prenatal reading include:

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.

 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.

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.

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.

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.

The research confirms: It’s never too early!

What better way to get a jump on the 1,000 books before kindergarten challenge than to get into the nightly storytime routine even before your baby is born? You can find lots more information about in utero reading, including links to studies and articles, topical posts, and book suggestions, on The Reading Womb blog.

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