Yes, expectant Mum, you can celebrate Mother’s Day, too!

16638831_sDuring your last trimester, it really does become obvious that your bump is not just a bump, that your little son or daughter is in there, ready to be born and meet you. You have felt him twist and poke you from inside and watched your belly roll and wave. You’ve seen his little nose and toes on the ultrasound — he’s already a perfect little person, cozy in his warm, safe space. Yes, you are a mother, and you have lots to celebrate on this holiday dedicated to you.

You’re so eager to meet this little one who has been close to you for months! What will it be like to hold him and see his face for the very first time? The last months of pregnancy are exciting, and as your belly grows larger, so does your love for your baby, who will be arriving very soon. It’s so hard to wait, isn’t it?

24446382_sBut here’s the incredible news. You may not yet know your baby, but your baby definitely knows you! He 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, he knows your voice . . . intimately.

Compelling new research shows that your voice plays as crucial a role in your baby’s growth and development as the healthy foods you’ve been eating all these past months. So although you have to wait a bit to hold your baby in your arms, you can begin nurturing him immediately, through the magical power of your unique voice.

Special Mother’s Day Gift! You or your expectant loved one can try reading in utero with our beautiful board book created specially for the purpose. Click here  and enter promo code W49ZZ9DQ  to get Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be for $3 off until May 31, 2015.

Researchers at Harvard University Medical School recently 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.”

Preg ReadNot only does talking to your bump help you to bond with your little one, but it actually helps his brain to grow!

If you’ve been following the Reading Womb blog, then you’re familiar with all the previous studies that show the importance of a mother’s voice on the developing child in utero. 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.

990240_sThese and many related 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.

But wait — there’s more! 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.

When your baby is born he leaves the soothing environment of the womb, with its predictable, rhythmic sounds. But if you hold him close and read a poem or story you’ve practiced with repeatedly, he will immediately be stilled by the familiar beat and by the beauty of your unique voice, the voice he 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?

25961883_sSo 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 he hears you in person! Until then, you can know that he already knows and responds to the sweet sound of his Mummy’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.

Reading roundup

Reading MumDear readers, we can’t help noticing the search terms that bring so many of you to The Reading Womb. The question most asked by far is some variation of, “What should I read to my baby in the womb?” We’re thrilled to see that reading to babies prenatally has become a mainstream practice among expectant parents! And clearly, families are thirsting for more information.

So in response to your requests, here’s another roundup of  books and authors perfectly suited to reading to your baby before birth.

If you’ve been following our blog and podcast, you know that the research says that the best stories for reading to your baby before birth are those that are rhythmic, rhyming, and repetitive. We know that preborn babies respond best to this type of auditory stimulation, and studies definitively prove that these kinds of stories are the best remembered and have the most soothing effect on newborns. The following list includes fun rhyming stories that you and your baby will enjoy before and after she’s born.

Martin-CarleAuthor Bill Martin, Jr. and iconic illustrator Eric Carle have collaborated to create a much-loved collection of rhyming books whose simple text and engaging illustrations will capture the attention of babies and adults alike. There are three titles with a similar catchy chorus repeated throughout each book, just perfect for in utero reading: Polar Bear Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, and Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?

Polar Bear, Polar Bear, what do you hear?

I hear a lion roaring in my ear!

Lion, Lion what do you hear?

I hear a hippopotamus snorting in my ear!

ChickaAnother favorite, also written by Bill Martin, Jr., is a rollicking and playful interpretation of the childhood chant, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.

A told B and B told C,

“I’ll meet you at the top of the coconut tree!” . . .

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom!

Will there be enough room?

Prolific author and illustrator Sandra Boynton has created many enjoyable rhyming books for young children. Her whimsical text and lovable characters create a fun reading experience for baby and grownups alike. From the popular Moo, Baa, La La La: “A cow says Moo. A sheep says Baa. Three singing pigs say La La La!”

BoyntonBoynton’s Tickle Time is bound to become a family favorite. Listen: “If you’re feeling blue and you don’t know what to do, there’s nothing like a tickle time to make you feel like new.”

Mem Fox has a way with words, and she’s created many books that should be at the center of your in utero reading experience. Her Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, The Magic Hat, and A Giraffe in the Bath are favorites that all have the rhyme, rhythm, and repetition that your baby will remember and grow to love.

A giraffe in the bath—does that make you laugh? Or a frog in the flour? Or a sheep in the shower? An owl with the flu? Or a roo on the loo? A crocodile with style—does that make you smile?

Of course, anything by Dr. Seuss will do the trick. You may have read these favorites as a child: One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, Hop on Pop, Green Eggs and Ham . . . and the list goes on.

KublerAnnie Kubler specializes in bringing popular rhymes to life with her charming and colorful illustrations. Everyone knows the words to If You’re Happy and You Know It, I’m a Little Teapot and Pat-a-Cake, but with her sweet babies and bright palette  Ms. Kubler has given the traditional children’s rhymes new life.

Family BumpSo, you’ve got some books and now you’re ready to get started! Watch for our next post, which will be full of practical tips about how to make your prenatal reading experience effective and powerful.

And if you are a parent who has benefited from the beautiful and bonding experience of reading to your baby before birth, we’d love to hear your story!  Please send your stories, photos or videos and we’ll include them on on our blog to inspire other expectant parents to read to their child in the womb! From everything we’ve heard, these little ones turn out to be pretty special—early talkers who want to read everything they can get their hands on. But we’re not surprised. We at the Reading Womb have long known that it’s never too early to read to your baby!

Pathways to language

Lev Vygotsky is certainly not a household name, but if you are a parent who talks and talks to your baby, you have intuitively stumbled upon the groundbreaking research territory of this brilliant cognitive theorist. Vygotsky’s study of babies and young children in the early 20th century led him to conclude that the best learning takes place when the learner is guided and supported while taking on something new by what he called “a more knowledgeable other.” Parents help their children construct their knowledge of language by introducing them to new words, and by modeling intonation and expression of voice, facial expression, and hand gestures. So, just by talking and talking, you are drawing your child along in his language learning and cognitive development, supporting his acquisition of new words, and introducing him to all the benefits of communicating with other people.

Of course, this communication can start even before your child is born. We know that babies can hear voices from inside the womb, and it is the mother’s voice that is heard most often and most clearly. During the last trimester, your baby will become familiar with the unique intonation, melody, and cadence of your voice. Research shows that the baby in the womb responds to repetition and rhythm, so by reading a poetic story you will be introducing your child to the beauty of language, and to the exciting world of human interaction. Once your baby is born, you can enrich his auditory experience by pointing out illustrations and objects that will help him to assign a visual image to the words he has become familiar with.

Reading a rhythmic story to a baby in the womb is also important to his brain development, building the foundation for future speaking, reading, and thinking. Here’s the amazing science that explains why. Months before birth, a baby is tuned in to his mother’s voice and the rhythmic sound of her heartbeat. The developing nerves in the baby’s ears are connected to his brain, and the stimulation caused by sounds creates new neural pathways as the baby grows. When sounds are repetitive, rhythmic, and familiar, the pathways are defined and strengthened. So by reading a story or poem over and over again, you are creating and reinforcing pathways in your baby’s brain, and these will lay the groundwork for continued learning and development. The research shows definitively that babies who are read a rhythmic story regularly in the last trimester, remember and are soothed by the same story after birth!

If you’ve followed our blog and podcasts, you know we’ve spoken a lot about the detriments of babies’ interacting with an artificial device such as a tablet, phone or computer monitor (see Interactive? Parts 1 and 2). And recently,  more evidence supporting the importance of human vs. electronic interaction was provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which reviewed hundreds of research studies done since 1999 on the effects of TV on babies and toddlers. Consider the following statement from the AAP:

“Pediatricians should urge parents to avoid television viewing for children under the age of 2 years. Although certain television programs may be promoted to this age group, research on early brain development shows that babies and toddlers have a critical need for direct interactions with parents and other significant caregivers (e.g., child care providers) for healthy brain growth and the development of appropriate social, emotional, and cognitive skills. Therefore, exposing such young children to television programs should be discouraged.”

There is no doubt: when it comes to your child’s language learning and cognitive development, nothing comes close to the rich and loving interactions your child shares with you and the other “more knowledgeable others” in his life. So keep talking and talking to your baby, before and after birth. You’ll be glad you did . . . and your new friend Lev Vygotsky would be so proud!