What’s old is new again

If you’re a regular visitor to the Reading Womb, we’re guessing you’re a research geek like we are, especially when it comes to studies about prenatal language learning and bonding. Part of our mission is to inform our readers about the latest and greatest new studies that reinforce the evidence that babies in the womb are an active audience, one who is listening, learning, and enjoying the sensory stimulus of the outside environment.

And here’s some fresh reinforcement! Researchers at the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge have been studying the relationship between prenatal bonding and infant and child well-being. The June 2018 edition of the journal Developmental Review has published the results of a meta-analysis carried out at the Centre that draws data from 14 studies—involving 1,862 mothers and fathers—to determine whether there is a link between the way parents think about their child during pregnancy and their behavior toward the baby and child later on.

“Studies have shown that parent–child interaction is crucial for a child’s development and learning,” said lead researcher Dr. Sarah Foley, “so we wanted to understand if there were prenatal signs that might predict a parent’s behavior.” And once the child had been born, researchers in these studies observed the interactions between parent and child, looking for such outcomes as “sensitivity”—the ability to notice, interpret, and respond to children’s signals, for example if the baby was upset.

In fact, the analysis did find that parents who were optimistic about their relationship with the coming baby, felt connected with the baby during pregnancy, and/or recognized her as a unique individual were more likely to have more positive experiences with parenting in the coming years.

The results from the study showed that mothers who actively engaged with their expected child by talking, singing, and imagining activities they would do together led to a stronger attachment between mother and baby after birth. Conversely, mothers who did not connect with their baby prenatally had more difficulty bonding with their newborns.

“This is a relatively new area of research,” Dr. Foley said, “but could have important implications for children’s development.” Very much so, we say! Implied in this study is its relationship with the large body of existing data that shows the impact of parental interaction—especially through talking, reading, and singing—on the language development, literacy, academic proficiency, and overall well-being of children.

You might assume that this fascinating research is introducing something new: the ideas that babies learn language, develop sleep and wake patterns, and bond with family members in the last months before they are born. So you might be surprised to learn that the recent findings are actually affirming the beliefs and practices of cultures that have been interacting and bonding with babies prenatally for thousands of years. Just a few examples . . .

  • In Hindu culture it has long been thought that a mother’s emotional well-being is deeply connected to that of her expected child. A special mantra is devoted to this purpose, and reciting it is said to put the spirit of the mother and baby at ease and promote a powerful bond between them.
  • When a woman from the Himba tribe in Africa discovers she’s pregnant, she and the other women of the village meditate together and create the Song of the Child, a unique melody that is sung regularly to the expected child. This practice creates a sense of connection between the baby and her mother, as well as to the tribal community and Mother Earth.
  • The Chinese have long believed that a mother’s disposition during pregnancy affects that of her child, so much so that expectant mothers are discouraged from engaging in conflict or experiencing sad events such as funerals and are encouraged to engage in positive thinking and cheerful activities.
  • A beautiful tradition of the Navajo tribe is a Mother’s Blessing Ceremony, during which a circle of women close to the expectant mother celebrate the pregnancy by reading poems, singing songs, and sharing stories about the joys of motherhood. It is the Navajos’ belief that this ceremony will calm the new mother’s worries and get her and her baby into a joyful frame of mind before the birth day.

It seems that prenatal science has been proving something over the last decade that many cultures have known for eons—that a deep connection exists between an expectant mother’s emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being and that of her baby.

As an expectant mom or dad, you’ve probably had the intuitive stirrings that are sparking a desire to connect with your little one before she’s born. What if you created a modern-day version of the ancient traditions by practicing a prenatal bonding ceremony of your own? That way, you could follow your innate, natural instinct to communicate and connect with your baby by establishing a routine centered around language and love, right from the beginning.

All you need to remember is the Four R’s: Rhyming, Rhythmic, Read, Regularly. That is, a rhyming, rhythmic story read regularly during the last trimester will have all the power of the ancient ceremonies. It’s part of that deep and simple truth that was known by our ancient ancestors and is being confirmed by the cutting-edge science of today.

Start imagining how you will create a prenatal celebration of this precious family bond.

The recipe for storytime magic

When is a book more than a book?

When it’s at the center of a snuggly, joyful, lively family storytime, that’s when!

A storytime book isn’t just an ordinary book: it’s the catalyst for a powerful shared experience, a celebration of togetherness, chock-full of laughing, learning, bonding, and just plain fun.

And yes, an actual, holdable book is needed for the magic to unfold, a book with pictures to point to and words to play with. When we share a real book, we smell the perfume of the paper and see its grain or sheen in the lamplight — sensual pleasures we’ll relish as long as we live. With a beloved book, the spell of the story begins to take hold and the juicy anticipation builds as each real page slowly turns.

Notice that snuggling is another essential part of storytime magic: close, warm, and safe, nestled in the crook of an arm or on a welcoming lap. Deep family bonds are formed during these sacred times, and science tells us that all kinds of wonderful feel-good hormones are exchanged when people sit close and share a happy experience.

Best yet, this snuggly read-aloud time can begin even before birth! In the last three months of pregnancy, the baby’s brain and auditory system are already developed enough for her to hear and recognize speech sounds, making this the perfect time to launch family storytime. The benefits of prenatal reading to babies’ cognitive development and language skills have been well documented over the last decade (just check out the Research section in the sidebar).

Just try it! Snuggle up with your partner tonight, and every night, for 15 minutes with a bedtime story — especially one that’s rhythmic and rhyming — for your expected little one. If you read to the bump every night during the last trimester, then keep that cozy ritual going when baby arrives, you’ll see real storytime magic when she’s born. Hearing the familiar story, she’ll probably stop crying . . . turn in the direction of the familiar voice . . . move her face and body, already caught in the spell of a beloved book.

As parents we work tirelessly to provide the very best for our kids. So much of what we do for our children every day places huge demands on our time, money, and energy.

But not storytime! Storytime is free! Storytime is easy! And most importantly, storytime gives your children what they crave most of all: YOU!

Mem Fox, courtesy of MemFox.com

So grab that beloved book, pick a cozy spot, settle down, and snuggle up with your child — or your child-to-be. Just sit back and let the storytime weave its spell and create the magical adventure that you and your child can experience again and again.

Take it from Mem Fox, the queen of Read-Aloud Magic. Here are her Ten Read-Aloud Commandments:

1 Spend at least ten wildly happy minutes every single day reading aloud. From birth! [Of course, we would respectfully amend that to “From the third trimester, or earlier!”]

2 Read at least three stories a day: it may be the same story three times. Children need to hear a thousand stories before they can begin to learn to read. Or the same story a thousand times!

3 Read aloud with animation. Listen to your own voice and don’t be dull, or flat, or boring. Hang loose and be loud, have fun and laugh a lot.

4 Read with joy and enjoyment: real enjoyment for yourself and great joy for the listeners

5 Read the stories that your child loves, over and over and over again, and always read in the same “tune” for each book: i.e., with the same intonations and volume and speed, on each page, each time.

6 Let children hear lots of language by talking to them constantly about the pictures, or anything else connected to the book; or sing any old song that you can remember; or say nursery rhymes in a bouncy way; or be noisy together doing clapping games.

7 Look for rhyme, rhythm, or repetition in books for young children, and make sure the books are really short.

8 Play games with the things that you and the child can see on the page, such as letting kids finish rhymes, and finding the letters that start the child’s name and yours, remembering that it’s never work; it’s always a fabulous game.

9 Never, ever teach reading, or get tense around books.

10 Please read aloud every day because you just adore being with your child, not because it’s the right thing to do.

 

 

Reading to the bump: Why not give it a try?

If you’re expecting a baby, you might already be clued in to the huge importance of daily read-aloud starting right from birth, and all the developmental, social, and family-bonding benefits it brings.

Well, there is a growing body of research (just check out the links in our sidebar!) showing that all these benefits can be enhanced if daily read-aloud starts even before birth.

Yes, your baby’s ears are already developed enough by the third trimester for her to hear and recognize your voice and even to start picking up on the rhythyms and melodies of your speech. This fosters not only her brain development but the bond you share, because by reading aloud you’ll naturally be communicating your love for her. You’ll also be showing her the joy and magic of language, and she’ll be fascinated and calmed by poems and stories when she hears them as a newborn.

This is your chance! Why not give it a try? What if you do notice that the book you read over and over to your baby in the womb turns out to be the best way to soothe her after she’s born?

What if storytime does turn out to be your new family’s favorite daily routine? And baby does turn out to be especially curious and connected, a lover of books and learning in general? You’ll be so glad you gave prenatal storytime a try!

Lead the way for the new generation of parents who embrace reading, talking, and singing to their babies even before they meet in person. Talking Is Teaching Is Love!

Father power!

Dad-to-be, do you know how important you are to your expected baby? Even before he’s born, you’re already playing a big role in his life just by loving him and making that felt through all the ways you care for his mother. Then there’s the touch of your warm hands on her belly; yes, he’s aware of that, too, as the June 2015 study “Fetal Behavioural Responses to Maternal Voice and Touch” found. “Stroking of the mother’s abdomen as a response to the kicking or positional movements of the fetus,” the researchers wrote, was found to be “a powerful stimulus, producing a range of fetal behavioural responses.” It’s a real interaction: he moves, you touch, he moves some more!

And then there’s your voice. Talking, laughing, singing, reading…he can hear you (in the third trimester or even earlier), and he’ll show you he recognizes your voice when he’s born. Please go back and read a couple of compelling anecdotes about this in our June 2015 post. We also mention the wonderful book Keys to Becoming a Father by Dr. William Sears, who discusses the ways a man can start forming a real and active bond with the baby before he’s born, including talking and reading to him.

He reports that some research shows that the fetus might even hear the deep male voice more clearly through the amniotic fluid than the mother’s voice. Working on that assumption, know that much of the research listed in our sidebar about the effects of the mother’s voice on her baby in the womb will also apply to the father’s voice. So talk, sing, read!

But wait—for a glimpse of the powerful influence a father can have on his baby, let’s jump ahead to after he’s born. An April 2017 study, “Father–Child Interactions at Three Months and 24 Months: Contributions to Children’s Cognitive Development at 24 Months,” has found that when fathers play an active role in babies’ early development (by playing and reading together), children perform better in cognitive tests at age two. “Even as early as three months,” a study author writes, “these father–child interactions can positively predict cognitive development almost two years later, so there’s something probably quite meaningful for later development, and that really hasn’t been shown much before.”

How do fathers contribute differently to their children’s learning than mothers? The study said that previous “observational studies have suggested that even though parents display similarities in their interaction styles, father–child interactions have a distinct quality: more stimulating, vigorous, and arousing in comparison to mother–child interactions. Their interactive episodes promote their child’s risk-taking and exploration tendencies, which in turn may facilitate the development of children’s cognitive skills.”

A segment of the study’s observation of father–child interaction concentrated on reading, which especially interested us, and the authors report: “Our findings from the book session link to evidence which suggests that the provision of rich language experiences and educational references support cognitive and learning skills.” In other words, reading aloud to the youngest babies is very good for their development—in so many ways, as we’re learning from so many early-literacy sources—and it has a special flavor when it’s done by Dad!

So, if a father can provide “rich language experiences,” in his own, particularly “stimulating, vigorous” way, through reading to his baby right from the beginning, and if your baby is already hearing your distinctly fatherly voice from inside the womb, it’s safe to assume that you, Dad-to-be, are already playing that essential role in his development.

That takes care of the sciencey side of things. But the magic of bonding with the baby in the womb goes deeper than that. If you adopt a nightly story time during pregnancy, your voice, like his mother’s, will become familiar to the growing baby, and after he’s born, studies show that he’ll recognize and be comforted when he hears you “in person.”

He’ll also recognize the familiar patterns and rhyming vowels of stories he’s heard repeatedly from the womb, and you’ll be helping him develop early language, cognitive, and social skills. As a brand-new, maybe slightly stunned father, you’ll be able to experience this amazing connection right away, and at the same time watch its soothing effect on your newborn.

Reading to an unseen listener might feel funny at first, but you’ll find that sharing this special reading time with your partner and expected child will become a loving family routine, the cornerstone of family bonding for many years to come. And you won’t be alone: many dads are jumping on the prenatal-reading bandwagon. What better way to start finding and flexing your unique, irreplaceable fathering muscles?

Not just for mothers-to-be! Make Can’t Wait to Show You your own, for 25 percent off on Amazon with promo code DadsRead, now through June 30. Happy Father’s Day!

 

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Happy Mother’s Day in the golden age of early literacy

Mom-to-be, you sure have a lot to celebrate in May. First, even if you’re still carrying your little bundle on the inside on Mother’s Day, you know very well that you’re already a mother and deserve to be fussed over and pampered and given breakfast in bed (it could happen!).

Second, you have the good fortune to become a parent during this golden age of early literacy, when an abundance of research findings and expert advice about reading to babies right from birth is being offered by nonprofit groups, libraries, and government agencies. And now, more and more, that includes information about “early-early literacy.” Yes, by reading, talking, and singing to your baby before birth, you’re laying the foundation for future language and literacy skills, cognitive development and, best of all, a sweet, strong mother–child bond.

We rejoiced a few months ago when a New York Times article so prominently pointed out the benefits of reading to babies in the womb. Then we jumped up and down when we learned about all the library story hours being created just for pregnant moms. We just love all this further confirmation that reading to babies before birth is an idea whose time has come. But do you need a little more information, Mom-to-be, to be convinced of the power of reading aloud to a baby you can’t even see yet? We’ve got lots to offer!

Compelling research shows that the mother’s voice plays a crucial role in babies’ growth and development in the womb. Long before you hold your baby in your arms, you begin nurturing him through your unique voice. As you read aloud you’ll find yourself feeling more calm as your heartbeat and breathing slow down, and you’ll immediately pass this relaxation to your baby. You’ll both feel connected, soothed, and peaceful; just like that, you’re already forming a deep bond.

To get yourself up to speed on the whys and wherefores of in utero reading, please check out the studies listed in our sidebar. For starters, here’s a quick summary of the classic research:

  • 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 more 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.

On top of that, research and anecdotal evidence strongly suggest that newborn babies are soothed by a rhythmic and repetitive story or song they heard regularly during the last trimester. If your new baby is fussy, you can hold him close and read a poem or story you’ve practiced repeatedly—he’ll immediately be stilled by the familiar sounds. How reassuring would it be to have another way to comfort your newborn at your fingertips?

So start now, while you’re still practicing to be a mother, by reading to your little one even before birth. Soon you’ll see his face light up when he hears you in person! Until then, you can know he’s already listening and responding to the sweet sound of his mother’s voice.

If you’re the loved one of a mom-to-be, there’s still time to get her started with her own copy of Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be. For our Mother’s Day Special, just enter promo code Mom2Bday on Amazon for 20% off through May 31, 2017.

Nurturing through the senses

deepak-bookWe talked recently about Deepak Chopra’s beautiful book, Magical Beginnings, Enchanted Lives: A Holistic Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth. Another thing we love about this book is that Deepak devotes so much attention to bonding with your baby, both before and after birth. For example . . .

“Use all five senses to connect with your baby and create a nurturing environment for both of you.”

In our August 2016 post, we mentioned the very real sensory connection mothers have with their babies in the womb that researchers have been discovering over the years. For instance, this fascinating BBC article delved into research that “supports the idea that babies learn taste preferences before they are born” and why this link between mother and baby (human and animal) likely developed to enhance newborn survival. This Science Daily article cites earlier studies that showed that babies’ sense of smell also develops in the womb.

21492380_sWhat about the sense of touch? Well, a June 2015 study, “Fetal Behavioural Responses to Maternal Voice and Touch,” reinforced findings of earlier research that found that “Newborns preferentially respond to maternal voice hours after birth, suggesting that the fetus is able to detect stimuli in utero and form memories of them.” Yes! We never get tired of hearing our message corroborated by experts!

This study is especially interesting in that it also measured (through ultrasound) fetal response when pregnant mothers touched their
baby bump. The researchers conclude, “Overall results suggest that maternal touch of the abdomen was a powerful stimulus, producing a range of fetal behavioural responses.” We love how they put their findings into a family context:

Mothers, fathers and other family members talk and even sing to the fetus throughout pregnancy with communicative intent. Many report changes in the fetal behaviour as a response to such communication. . . . Similarly to talking to the fetus, most mothers and even fathers attempt to communicate with and regulate the behaviour of the fetus via stroking of the mother’s abdomen as a response to the kicking or positional movements of the fetus. Even the expecting mothers’ mood is affected by massaging the abdomen. . . .

And this brings us back to Deepak’s important advice. We know now that babies can hear, taste, smell, and feel from inside the womb, and scientists also find that they’re sensitive to light as early as the fourth month. But you also create a “nurturing environment” for yourself and your baby in utero simply by connecting to your own five senses.

Revel in the flavors of your breakfast, your fruit, your tea. Feast your eyes on the kaleidoscopic colors at the farmer’s market. Moon around the florist’s shop taking deep, ecstatic breaths. Luxuriate in the bliss of a warm ray of sun slanting through the window. And lie back in the comfiest chair in the house and let your sweetie give you and baby-to-be some loving touch. All this (plus the resulting release of endorphins, or feel-good hormones) willKissing Belly communicate to your child, “All is well and calm and safe. Rest, relax, and grow, and soon you’ll join us in this beautiful world.”

If you foster calm and peace in your baby’s environment even before he’s born, the effects can last through the birth, the newborn weeks, the first year, and on into childhood. A “magical beginning” indeed!

Now please forgive a shameless plug for our book, Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be, which takes you through a journey of the five senses with your baby in the womb. Read aloud these words that let you indulge your happy anticipation, and enjoy the colorful collage-style illustrations, and you’ll truly be connecting with your senses and your unborn child.

friends

bubbles

Feelsky

taste

Smellbang

 

 

 

Best present ever for baby-to-be!

15265325_sAre you an expectant Daddy, Auntie or Uncle, Grandma or Grandpa? Bet you can hardly wait for the little bundle of joy to arrive, and you’re itching to start playing that very important role in the life of your newest family member. We know you want to make this connection as soon as possible, and we have an idea to help you do it.

24446493_sYou can be that very special relative who gives your expected loved one his very first storytime. The power of regular storytime for families is well researched and documented. Reading to children from the very beginning has benefits that range from strengthening family bonds to teaching empathy to enhancing cognitive and language development. 33943744_sAnd you can be the one to get it all started with a gift that truly does keep on giving: an awarding-winning, research-supported Belly Book!

So, the busy holidays are rolling around, and we want to help you check off one very important item on your list. Use promo code O2ZHRUHJ at checkout on Amazon for $3 off, from midnight on Thanksgiving until midnight on January 6, 2016, the end of the 12 Days of Christmas. Best gift ever for the baby-to-be — check! Aren’t you glad you came around to the Reading Womb?

Families who started their storytime routine during the last trimester with Can’t Wait to Show You, the first in the Belly Books Collection, have told us that the experience is life changing. They started reading to baby regularly before birth, made storytime into a favorite nightly ritual, and were able to keep up the habit when their newborn arrived. ParentsFamily and children alike became hooked on reading, and it all started with this beautiful little board book.

Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be has become a cherished storytime staple, helping to spread the phenomenon of bonding with babies, prenatally and beyond, through language and literacy. Can you think of a better way to become the new baby’s favorite than by giving the gift of literacy love, all wrapped up in a gorgeous, baby-friendly, U.S.-made board book?

Establishing a regular reading routine before birth is one of the very best things parents can do for their children, and Can’t Wait to Show You has all the research-recommended, parent-tested ingredients for inspiration and success:Enjoy

  • The rollicking rhythm and rhymes are easy to read and will be soothing music to baby’s ears.
  • There’s visual appeal for the newborn: the bright and colorful illustrations will capture baby’s attention, and the chunky design and easy-to-grasp pages are baby-friendly.
  • The sweet verses and illustrations allow the expectant mother to celebrate this time of joyful anticipation.
  • As a fun, unique bonus, this sturdy board book, made in the USA, is uniquely shaped to rest comfortably over the pregnant belly, and then around the newborn when he arrives!

SmellNow, it’s important for Mom-to-Be to enjoy reading to baby as much as he enjoys listening. Can’t Wait to Show You celebrates all the little things she’ll soon be introducing to his wondering eyes, ears, nose, and mouth — exploring all five senses and the joys of play, friends, and love. It’s quite a moving experience for an expectant mother, and of course Daddy and other family members (you too!) can share it with her.

The baby becomes familiar with the rhythm of the lines, and with the unique melody of the reader’s voice, and responds to the sound after Futurehe’s born. Soon enough, you’ll have a toddler squirming on your lap and demanding, “Read it again!”

Whether you give this book to yourself or to a loved one, we’d LOVE you to share your experience. By email, on Facebook, or with an Amazon review, please send your before-and-after pictures and stories. Thank you and Happy Holidays!