Prenatal Story-time: A Multi-sensory experience!

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 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 recent 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) will
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 nature-inspired illustrations, and you’ll truly be connecting with your senses and your unborn child.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Big Sisters and Brothers-to-be

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!

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 on our Research and Information page!) 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!

The Timeless Power of Prenatal Bonding

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. A recent 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.

Experts agree!

Click on the egg to listen to “Hear from an Expert: It’s Never Too Early to Read to Your Baby,” an interview with Susan and Jackie from The Reading Womb, on the Stork Storytime Talks podcast

Hooray! The message is spreading: literacy can and should be nurtured not only in toddlers and babies but babies in utero, too. Abundant research over the last decade has shown that babies in the third trimester are an active audience. They can discern, remember, and learn what they hear from inside the womb. Learning doesn’t beginatbirth but beforebirth, and that means early literacy work should now include pre-birth literacy, or, as we like to call it, preliteracy.

As we’ve been reporting for years, libraries are some of the greatest champions of preliteracy. What stronger testament to the clear and proven benefits of reading to babies in the womb could there be than the readiness of library organizations to develop programs to teach young families about the practice?

In this April 2017 post we filled you in on the amazing prenatal-storytime programs being developed by the North Liberty, Iowa, library system. That was just the beginning! The former Womb Literacy program is now Stork Storytime, expanded to offer a variety of services to expecting and new parents. This innovative family education initiative…

encourages the development of a daily reading routine before baby (and chaos) arrives. It offers expecting parents and caregivers opportunities to learn about early literacy skills and connect with resources in their communities, empowering them to be more confident in their roles as a child’s first teachers, right from the very beginning.

Stork Storytime at a library in North Liberty, Iowa

They’ve also created this wonderful Stork Storytime Reads Librarian Toolkit to assist libraries in delivering the Reads program to their communities.

Expectant parents can register for 100 Books Before Birth to log 100 read-alouds before baby arrives — a really fun way to encourage parents to develop a reading routine from the very beginning and even earn prizes along the way.

Every year they host the annual Stork Storytime Expo for local non-profits and businesses to meet and share all things baby.

Especially exciting is their Stork Storytime Talks podcast, designed to help busy families learn about the literacy skills kids and babies need to succeed, whenever and wherever they can. Episodes feature experts and library staff sharing useful information to get parents more confident about their role as a child’s first teacher. See this American Libraries article by Stork Storytime co-founder Jennifer Jordebrek for much more info.

And don’t miss this episode featuring The Reading Womb!

Now for a shout-out to a small-town library on the island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts that’s making a big impact on local families. Emily LaPierre, the children’s librarian at the Vineyard Haven Public Library, launched the Belly Babies Storytime program when she learned she was pregnant herself and realized that expectant mothers, who can feel isolated on an island, needed a regular way to connect.

Belly Babies is a monthly gathering for moms-to-be to bond with each other while bonding with their expected babies by reading and singing to their bumps, chatting, learning, and sharing snacks.

We met with this dynamic and enthusiastic young woman a few months ago and were bowled over by her dedication to both community building and the power of prenatal literacy. Read more here.

We’re so grateful to these brilliant and beautiful people making such great contributions to the cause of family bonding through preliteracy. If you haven’t yet tried reading to your baby in utero, please give this sweet and snuggly practice a try. You’ll feel the love flowing through your words, and so will baby — maybe even more if you practice amid the good vibes at your local library.

And if you feel like you could use a little support, check out your local library — does it offer prenatal story hour yet?

 

Do you speak Parentese?

As parents, we have so much to think about, worry about, and learn. We are bombarded with information from news, research, and social media that can be overwhelming and confusing. It sometimes makes us wonder if we’re doing too much or not enough in our mission to raise healthy, happy kids.

So isn’t it great when you get a big thumbs-up for something you’re already doing as a parent?

You’ve talked to your baby in a funny voice, right? You’ve also stretched words out and carefully articulated them to help your baby understand and learn them. You’ve probably even exaggerated the tone of your voice to show different emotions through your words.

New research out of the University of Washington confirms that you are on the right track! The study, from UW’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS), shows that it’s important not only thatyou talk to your baby but howyou talk to your baby.

It seems that this use of “parentese” has a powerful impact on infants. More than just baby-talk, parentese is grammatical language using real words and accentuated tones of voice that “helps babies tune in socially to their parents and motivates them to talk back, even if that just means babbling,” according to an article about the study on University of Washington News.

The research shows that babies who are exposed to this type of speech develop strong language skills themselves. When parents participating in the study were coached in using parentese, their children learned to talk earlier and with a larger vocabulary than babies whose parents did not speak this way.

The lead author of the study, Ferjan Ramírez, explained that parents can communicate with their children in this way to enhance language learning throughout their usual activities: “Everyday moments and daily interactions really matter, and parents can create more such moments and be more intentional about them.” Ramírez added:

Parents are a child’s first and most important teachers, and we are happy to show they can have an immediate positive effect on the growth of their child’s language. Early language skills are important predictors of a child’s learning to read and of their success in school, and parents can directly affect their child’s outcomes in this way.

Supercharge your parentese: read aloud!

If you’ve looked around The Reading Womb a bit, you’ll be aware of the explosion of research and advice about early literacy—reading to children right from birth—that’s become available to parents in recent years. This practice, advocates say, stimulates early brain development and helps build important language, literacy, and social skills. Sound familiar?

Well, just like parentese, reading aloud is something that many new parents have to learn. After all, most adults haven’t read aloud since they were kids themselves! Fortunately, you have so many great teachers to turn to.

Jim Trelease, author of the long-bestselling Read Aloud Handbook, created a list of “Do’s and Don’ts for Read Alouds.” Right in line with the findings on parentese, Trelease suggests, for instance, that parents use plenty of expression when reading.You can use your voice to reflect the meaning of the text: a soft voice for gentle characters and touching scenes, a loud voice to show strong emotion or to emphasize drama and excitement. Also, adjust your pace to fit the story: read slowly to bring attention to beautiful language and imagery, and more quickly to show movement and action.

When it comes to enriching the vocabulary you use with your baby, beloved children’s author and early literacy advocate Mem Fox says in her amazing book Reading Magic, “If children love the words they hear, they’ll use them delightfully in their own speaking and in their own writing. If they love the sounds of the words, they’ll understand them better when they come to read them later. That’s another terrific benefit of reading aloud: familiar words—words heard often previously—are always easier to read than unfamiliar words.”

And as Sarah McKenzie says in her book (and entire platform!) The Read-Aloud Family, “When we read aloud, we give our kids a storehouse filled with excellent vocabulary and highly sophisticated language patterns. We offer them practice at making connections and thinking well. And best of all, we help them fall in love with reading—an affection that will serve them well their entire lives.”

Reading aloud to your baby can be the perfect way to practice using expressive language in all your communication with your child.

The perfect time to learn

So, if it takes some practice to develop a comfort level with reading aloud and speaking parentese, what better time to start than before your baby is born? In the final weeks before baby arrives, her ears are already fully developed and her brain is able to discern varying speech patterns. This time of expectation, before your life changes so dramatically, is the perfect time to get used to reciting bouncy Dr. Seuss rhythms and silly Sandra Boynton rhymes. By the time your baby is born, you’ll already be fluent in parentese!

This is also the time to make bedtime stories a nightly routine that you’ll look forward to as much as your new baby will. After a period of practicing reading to your baby in utero, you’ll fall into a storytime routine that’s comfortingly familiar—even to baby, who’s been listening avidly from inside the womb—and it will become a cherished family ritual with lifelong rewards.

All the benefits of reading aloud to children and babies, combined with the wealth of scientific support for reading to babies in the womb (check out the links on our Research & Information page), make it abundantly clear that it’s never too early to read to your baby!

Remember, you are your baby’s first and most important teacher. By modeling enthusiastic and expressive speech, you are setting an example for your child’s own language development—before birth and after!

 

 

 

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!