Sibling-bonding magic

Helping Mommy read aloud to baby brother- or sister-to-be

If you’re a new family hoping to add another member someday—or soon!—then you might sometimes worry about how this will affect your firstborn. How will she feel when she’s no longer the center of your universe?

Popular wisdom holds that introducing a new sibling is inevitably difficult and potentially even traumatic for the firstborn child. But the truth is that expanding your family can be a joyful experience right from the beginning if you help your little one create a strong relationship with her baby brother or sister—even before the baby is born.

Our mission at the Reading Womb is to educate parents about the importance of bonding with babies by starting a regular storytime even before birth. And prenatal bonding, especially through reading aloud, is also the very best way to build strong sibling relationships!

By the time your second child comes along, you’ve probably established a regular read-aloud routine. We hope you even read to your first child in utero, and she’s a book lover already! Whether storytime is part of your family’s schedule or not, reading to your firstborn and expected child at the same time is way to continue or ingrain a practice that is integral to successful families.

Think about it: you’re sharing with two little ones at once all the joys of language, literacy, and bonding through books, and at the same getting some relaxation time for yourself. Now, that’s multitasking at its best!

Research has shown that babies can hear and remember voices from inside the womb during the last trimester—so let your first child know that the baby in Mummy’s belly can really hear her talking. The sibling-bonding magic happens when your child actively joins in the read-aloud with you. She can repeat some of the lines from the story after you read them, or even read some words herself if she’s old enough. Meanwhile, you can help her describe the pictures to the baby and add her own details to the story.

Hey, Little Baby, from Cottage Door Press

We can’t resist sharing a glimpse of the “second sibling” in the Belly Books collection! Hey, Little Baby was created specially for little ones to welcome a new baby brother or sister into their world. By telling the baby-to-be about all the fun they’ll have together, your firstborn will develop a sense of excitement about the upcoming birth—and a feeling of companionship that will ease the adjustment.

There are so many benefits to both grownups and children from family storytime, even just 15 minutes a day. Setting aside this sacred time to share the joys of language and story is a beautiful way to just be together as a family. And if you establish daily reading time with your first child, then when the new baby finally arrives, this will continue as an expected and comforting routine as you all settle into life as an expanded family.

Goodbye, sibling rivalry—hello, sibling revelry!

Our new Cottage home

We are so excited to announce a giant step forward for prenatal storytime. The Belly Books collection, the first family of board books to read to babies before birth, has found a new home (and what a cozy and colorful one it is!) at Cottage Door Press.

Cottage Door Press is devoted to promoting early literacy through its Early Bird Learning Guide™. Voted by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the fastest-growing independent publishers of 2017 and 2018, Cottage Door produces a vast array of beautiful board books for babies from birth (and now even before birth!) to three years.

Cottage Door is kicking off the Belly Books collection with two titles. The first is a brand-new edition of our original Can’t Wait to Show You, now stunningly illustrated by Laura Horton. Just look at these scrumptious colors!

And we’re thrilled to welcome the next member of the family, Hey, Little Baby, specially created for big sisters- and brothers-to-be to read to the expected baby! The adorable illustrations by Roxanne Rainville will get little ones excited to share their world with the new baby, and at the same time the baby in Mummy’s belly will be listening to the fun rhythm and rhymes.

Upcoming Belly Books will be specially designed for Daddy, Grandma, Grandpa, parents expecting twins . . . and the list will go on and on.

The Early Bird Learning Guide is a system to help parents understand which skills they’re reinforcing when they read a Cottage Door book to their baby. The guide is based on widely accepted milestones of childhood development and corresponds to the removable sticker on the front cover of each of its books.

Belly Books is joining the Family category, whose motto is “Story time is family time!” Among the benefits of this category listed in the Early Bird Learning Guide are that it “strengthens family bonds, supports a literate home environment, creates lifetime memories . . . and reinforces language patterns” — those family-storytime benefits we at The Reading Womb are so passionate about!

To have the support of this distinguished, literacy-centered publisher is such an honor for us as authors, but even more importantly, it’s a sign of the growing understanding that the baby in the womb is already an alert and responsive member of a young family. And it means that Belly Books, so perfectly designed to invite expectant parents to try this new practice, will be able to reach pregnant women and their partners, children, and extended families worldwide.

We couldn’t be more proud and delighted to be working with the lovely and talented people at Cottage Door Press. Check out their fabulous Stories from the Cottage blog, and watch their Instagram account for the Belly Books takeover in August!

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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Celebrate Read-Aloud Month — before and after birth

ReadAloud.org
ReadAloud.org

 

It surely must be a sign of healthy changes in our culture that so much attention is being given to reading aloud. What’s more, the age of focus keeps getting younger: not only were school-age children found to benefit from regular storytime but preschoolers, then toddlers, and then babies. “Read, talk, sing to your baby!” has become a universal rallying cry among educators, literacy advocates, librarians, and parenting experts.

Now, at last, babies in the womb are being gathered into the reading circle. The world is coming to understand that, to quote The New York Times, “Language Lessons Start in the Womb.” That’s the name of a February 21 article in which renowned pediatrican-author Perri Klaus reports on a compelling new study of language in adopted babies.

The study, conducted in the Netherlands, found that adults who had been born in Korea but were adopted by Dutch families had a much greater ability to make Korean speech sounds than Dutch-born adults. This was true whether they’d been adopted before or after they’d started talking, which led the researchers to conclude that the language they heard before and soon after birth had affected their ability to distinguish and produce speech sounds. These findings build upon those of a 2012 study we’ve mentioned in a previous post in which Dr. Christine Moon found that English and Swedish newborns responded differently to the vowel sounds used in their native language than they did to those of the other language.

Add it all to the big basket of evidence (just scroll down our sidebar to find that) showing that your baby really can hear you from inside the womb, and that she’s already picking up on your unique voice, your laugh, your favorite song to sing in the shower, and all the sounds, rhythms, patterns, and melodies of your language. And if you’re a bilingual parent or couple, the more, the merrier: your mighty little baby will absorb the characteristics of both languages!

Courtesy of Everett Bowes
Courtesy of Everett Bowes

Now on to the benefits of reading aloud. First, see our previous National Reading Month posts here and here for some great facts and links. Then check out another great new article, this time in the Washington Post, which starts off with these wonderful words:

One of the most important things parents can do, beyond keeping kids healthy and safe, is to read with them. That means starting when they are newborns and not even able to talk, and continuing well beyond the years that they can read by themselves. Study after study shows that early reading with children helps them learn to speak, interact, bond with parents and read early themselves, and reading with kids who already know how to read helps them feel close to caretakers, understand the world around them and be empathetic citizens of the world.

990240_sThe article quotes some very encouraging statistics from Scholastic’s Kids & Family Reading Report, for instance that more than three out of four parents start reading aloud before their child is a year old. Forty percent of parents read aloud before their baby is three months old, and 62 percent of parents of young children are reading aloud five to seven days a week. See what we mean about all the attention being given to reading? The message is being heard!

And just think: all these powerful benefits of read-aloud time with your child can begin even before birth. In the last three months of pregnancy, when your baby’s brain and auditory system are already developed enough for her to hear and recognize sounds, you can start practicing this important reading routine and enjoying the feeling of sharing the love of language with your child.

34044383_sIf you’re a mom- or dad-to-be who’s intrigued by the idea of reading to your baby in the womb, we say: this is the month to give it a try! If you carry on through the rest of the pregnancy, we think you’ll be hooked. This is one of the best things you can do for your baby, right up there with prenatal nutrition and checkups.

The well-documented benefits of reading aloud to children and babies, combined with the wealth of scientific support for reading to babies in the womb, make it abundantly clear that It’s Never Too Early to Read to Your Baby! Start this joyful and valuable storytime routine right now, during  Read-Aloud Month, when book lovers everywhere are celebrating with activities to spread the love of reading.

Do you need some tips to get started? Check out this post for a fuller exploration of Jim Trelease’s read-aloud insights.

So thankful

Let’s take a moment to appreciate the ordinary little miracle that is happening right now. You’re pregnant. Countless women (and females of all mammal species) have been in this condition for eons. Today 4.3 babies are born on earth every second!

But no one else is carrying your baby.

And no one’s experience with this amazing process is quite like yours. So indulge yourself for a minute and really feel the wonder of it. Breathe a sigh of gratitude. You’ve been caught up in the excitement and the worries, the preparations and shopping, the fascinating new shapes your body is taking and all the strange (sometimes overwhelming) new sensations you’re feeling. Meanwhile, this little being is riding along inside you, enjoying the bounces and the taste of your breakfast . . . and (by the third trimester) eavesdropping on everything you say!

Yes, you are already communicating with your baby. She knows the rhythms of your body and your sleep cycles, your movements and stillness and, most important, the sound of your voice. Compelling research shows that their 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 her through the power of your unique voice.

Deepak Chopra writes about this connection in his beautiful book, Magical Beginnings, Enchanted Lives: A Holistic Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth. “The process is one that is called neuro-associative conditioning,” he says. “Your nervous system anchors your emotional well-being to the vibration of the sound.” He also says that “the rhythm and pitch of human voices are clearly perceptible in the womb…. An unborn child becomes familiar with his mother’s voice long before he emerges from the womb.”

This early connection that expectant and new parents sense intuitively is now being proven by science. Research shows that babies in the third trimester can hear, recognize, and even remember sounds—especially their mother’s voice—and this stimulation plays a vital role in their development. Researchers at Harvard University Medical School, for example, found that an expectant mother’s voice has a strong influence on the language centers in a baby’s brain. According to the study, a mother’s voice provides “the auditory fitness necessary to shape the brain for hearing and language development.” So, not only does talking to your bump help you to bond with your little one, but it actually helps her brain to grow!

Studies also show that reading to babies in utero is particularly powerful. Newborns have been found to respond to rhythmic, rhyming stories that were read to them regularly in the last weeks before birth. When your newborn baby cries, you can read her a poem or story you’ve practiced repeatedly during pregnancy and she will immediately be stilled by the familiar beat and the beauty of the voice she has been listening to for months. Wouldn’t it be nice to have one more way of comforting your new baby when she gets fussy? If you start talking, singing, and reading to your baby in the womb, you’ll see her face light up when she hears you in person! Until then, you can know that she is already loving, and learning from, the sweet sound of her mother’s voice.

“If we aim to create a nonviolent world,” says Deepak in his book, “we must begin with love and nourishment in the womb.” In other words, if you foster calm and peace in your baby’s environment even before she’s born by communicating with her consciously, the effects can last through her childhood, perhaps carrying that deep-seated feeling of well-being throughout her life. Imagine a world where all babies experienced this “magical beginning”! It could become a reality, starting with you. Now, that opportunity is a lot to be thankful for.

We at the Reading Womb are so grateful to all of our readers, and everyone who has supported Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be, the first board book specially created to read to the baby in the womb.

To show our appreciation we’d like to offer you $3 off the price of Can’t Wait to Show You through the end of November. Just visit our Amazon page and use promo code SQN736UN at checkout. Here is a taste of the baby-love dreams that await you . . . thankful

 

Happy (Expectant) Mother’s Day!

15039141_sEven if your “bun is still in the oven” on Mother’s Day, you know very well that you’re already a mother, and you have lots to celebrate on this holiday dedicated to you.

During this exciting time, don’t forget how important it is for you to relax and enjoy the moment. Relaxation not only feels wonderful to you, but is very good for your baby. As we all know, stress can have a strong impact on our physiological and psychological well-being, and recent research (this British study, for example) suggests that these effects can be passed on to the unborn baby.

So take it easy, mother-to-be! Just by sitting or lying back comfortably and breathing, you’re accomplishing something important: nurturing and caring for your baby. As you take each deep breath in, you’re also breathing for your baby. She’s taking in that life-giving oxygen and it’s nourishing her and helping her grow. Each beat of your heart brings invigorating blood to your baby, making her stronger every moment. Meanwhile, those heartbeats and breaths are playing her a soothing, rhythmic lullaby. . . in full surround-sound!

16056060_sWhen you add your voice to the mix, especially by reading your baby a calming, rhythmic story, you have the formula for perfect relaxation for both mother and child. As you read aloud you’ll find yourself feeling more calm as your heartbeat and breathing slow down. This relaxation will immediately pass to your baby; you’ll both feel connected, soothed, and peaceful. Just like that, you’re forming a deep, loving bond.

You may not yet know your baby, but your baby definitely knows you! She knows the rhythms of your body, your waking and sleeping cycles, when and what you eat, when you’re active or still, and most importantly, she knows your voice. 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 her through the power of your unique voice.

Researchers at Harvard University Medical School reported their study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finding that an expectant mother’s voice plays a vital role in the development of the language centers in a baby’s brain. According to the study, a mother’s voice provides “the auditory fitness necessary to shape the brain for hearing and language development.” So, not only does talking to your bump help you to bond with your little one, but it actually helps her brain to grow!

When you get a chance, check out all the previous studies listed in our sidebar that show the importance of a mother’s voice on the developing child in utero. But here’s a quick summary of a few of them:

  • 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 related discoveries assure us that a baby in the last trimester is hearing, responding to, and remembering what she’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 her brain.

On top of that, research and lots of anecdotal evidence — including from our readers — strongly suggest that newborn babies are soothed and calmed by a rhythmic and repetitive story (or song) they heard regularly during the last trimester.

10243988_sWhen your baby is born she leaves the soothing environment of the womb, with its predictable, rhythmic sounds. But if you hold her close and read a poem or story you’ve practiced repeatedly, she will immediately be stilled by the familiar beat and by the beauty of your unique voice, the voice she has known and loved for months. Wouldn’t it give you a little extra confidence to have one more way of comforting your new baby when she gets fussy?

So celebrate Mother’s Day by talking, singing, and reading to your baby even before birth. Soon enough, you will see your little one’s face light up when she hears you in person! Until then, you can know that she already knows and responds to the sweet sound of her mother’s voice.

As an added bonus, you can be sure that by talking to your baby now, you are laying the foundation for future language and literacy skills, cognitive development and, best of all, a sweet, strong mother-and-child bond.

Happy Mother’s Day!