Happy Daddy-to-Be Day!

Preg DadThere’s no better way to for us to inspire you, the expectant father, to read to your baby before birth than for you to hear from fellow daddies who have experienced the magic of in-utero reading firsthand. We just happen to have some amazing stories from a couple of incredible dads-to-be who  bonded with their expected child by reading to Mommy’s baby bump. We’ll wow you with their stories first, and then tell you all about the evidence supporting this practice and also how to begin!

Meet Everett Bowes. He’s a first-time father who, as you can see from the photo below, is truly enjoying the benefits of having read to his son before he was born. Everett heard about the benefits of prenatal storytime, and…well you can hear it from him:

Early in my wife’s pregnancy we heard about the benefits of reading to a baby still in the womb. . . . I read to Emerson every day. In fact, I often read to him multiple times per day. When he was just a few weeks old I read it to him for the first time outside the womb. We were shocked at his response. He seemed to recognize the story immediately, including all of my silly Everett Bowesaccents for the different characters. He made sounds and waved his arms excitedly as we read. Babies his age don’t smile like this, yet he wouldn’t stop smiling, squealing, and waving. We couldn’t believe how clearly he recognized the story. This is one of our most treasured memories.

See the whole beautiful Storehouse story here.

Everett’s story is an amazing example of an exciting trend. More and more expectant fathers are bonding with their sons and daughters before birth through the power of their voice. And in that incredible moment when their newborn first responds to Daddy’s voice and a familiar story or song, the baby/daddy bond comes to life.

Here’s another one. Thanks to Brigid Hubberman of the Family Reading Partnership in Ithaca, New York, for sharing this wonderful anecdote about a dad she knows who regularly read The Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle to his baby in utero. She told us:

Hungry CaterpillarAfter a long and difficult labor, when baby was finally born by C-section, the new dad found himself exhausted, alone and panicked in the recovery room with a shrieking new baby. Looking down he felt the words well up, and found himself say to the baby, “In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf.” Immediately, the baby quieted down and looked into her father’s eyes as he told the story of the caterpillar that turned into a butterfly. There is no doubt that this baby was soothed by the familiarity and comfort of her father’s voice reading (by heart) a story that was already her own.

Almost convinced? Well, here’s the research part. You’ve probably heard of Dr. Sears, the world-renowned pediatrician who wrote Keys to Becoming a Father. He says, “Studies have shown that babies whose fathers talked to them before birth attended more to their father’s voices soon after birth, perhaps indicating that the sound of the father’s voice had been imprinted on the mind of the preborn baby.”

Daddy and BabyAccording to Dr. Sears, “Some researchers suspect that the preborn baby actually may hear the father’s voice better than the mother’s, because the amniotic fluid transmits the resonant low-pitched male voice more easily than a higher feminine voice.” So there’s the scientific evidence you might have needed to know that your baby will hear and learn your voice from inside Mommy’s tummy. (More about this fascinating research on the sidebar of our blog if you are interested.)

After reading all that, we’re certain that you are chomping at the bit to get started, right? So, how does a dad begin? First he should designate a special and regular time each day to snuggle up to his expectant partner and her belly. (Make sure to ask her first!) Choose a story that is rhythmic and repetitive; the research says that babies respond best to stories with an inherent beat. (We have some excellent suggestions in our Reading Roundup post.)

Read the same story or poem each time and we promise that your unique daddy voice and the story will soon become familiar to your baby. Also, there is some evidence that it may help the acoustics if you keep your mouth right up close to the belly.Reading Daughter

Once your baby is born, the magic will begin. She will reward her daddy for his efforts by becoming immediately calmed and soothed as he reads the story she’s already come to love. What an incredible connection you will have created with your child!

Reading to an unseen listener may feel odd 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 as you can see, you won’t be alone. Many dads are jumping on the prenatal-reading bandwagon. If a father reads to his unborn child every night, he will have a special opportunity to bond with his child and establish a routine that can be continued long after the child is born.

For some specific instructions from an actual dad, please check out this awesome blog post from Dad’s Adventure.

And you must check out Daddy Elvin Freyte’s blog, Majendome. He’s started a powerful movement to inspire fathers around the globe to embrace this practice.

Bedtime StoryNow you’ve heard the stories and seen the evidence that supports the power of reading to your baby in utero. The rewards will continue throughout your child’s lifetime as you establish a Daddy/baby storytime that will continue for years to come.

So go ahead, Daddy-to-be — read to your baby! When he is born and you say hello, he’ll be thinking, “Hey, I know you!” And when you share the story he’s heard so many times before, your little one will become an alert and attentive audience, captivated by his daddy’s voice, the voice that is yours and yours alone.

Official AAP recommendation: Start reading early!

AAPThe nation’s largest pediatricians’ group, the American Academy of Pediatrics, has publicly urged parents to read aloud to their children daily and to begin as soon as possible. This practice, they say, stimulates early brain development and helps build important language, literacy and social skills. Dr. Pamela High, a renowned pediatrician and spokesperson for the Academy, says:

What we’re addressing is that many parents in the United States don’t seem to have the knowledge that there’s a wonderful opportunity available to them, starting very early, an opportunity for them to begin building their child’s language development and to forge their own relationship with their child through reading to them on a regular basis.

We couldn’reading pregnantt agree more, Dr. High! And we’re grateful for the tireless work you’ve done over many years to spread the word about the importance of sharing language with children right from the very start.

With all the recent research showing that a baby in the last trimester learns language, we are certain that an announcement from the AAP about reading even before birth is not far behind.

“It feels kind of awkward”

You may be an expectant parent who has been hearing about all the incredible benefits of reading to children as soon as possible, and you want to get started, but how? You already take good care of your baby by taking prenatal vitamins, cutting back on caffeine, and getting enough rest, but reading out loud? Now that’s a horse of a different color! We realize that most adults ReadtoBabyhave not read aloud since they were children, if ever, and that beginning this practice can be a little daunting. You might even be thinking to yourself, “What if I do it wrong?”

We at the Reading Womb are here to assure you that there is absolutely no wrong way to read to your baby. Your little one has already fallen deeply in love with you and with your unique voice — months before he is born. Research shows that every time you speak, your baby tunes in and listens closely.

“So what should I read to my baby in the womb?”

To tell the truth, your baby will get all gaga hearing you read the ingredients from the side of a cereal box! But if your aim is to promote literacy and language development, then we can give you the tools to begin. The very first thing that you need to begin your reading routine is . . . a book! Research shows that babies in the womb, as well as newborns, latch onto language that is rhythmic, rhyming, and repetitive.

Beloved children’s author and early literacy advocate Mem Fox beautifully explains:

When children are born, they’ve been used to the mother’s heartbeat in the womb. When they’re born, they’re rocked and cradled. There is a rhythm to life itself. There’s rhythm in the nursery rhymes and songs that are sung to children.

ChickenSo choose a book that has a simple rhythm that’s easy for you to read and will be soothing music to your baby’s ears. In many of the research studies that we’ve reported here, babies in the womb were regularly read nursery rhymes. The short, simple, repetitive lines heard before birth were learned and remembered later by the newborns. As an extra bonus, these babies were soothed and calmed by the familiar language they heard before birth!

Choosing a book with visual appeal to a newborn is also important. Bright and colorful board books will capture a baby’s attention, and the chunky design and easy-to-grasp pages are baby friendly. When he’s still inside the womb, your voice and the fun and lively text will be the main attraction, but once he’s born your baby will have the incredible experience of blending the familiar text with beautiful and supporting illustrations. Voila! You have a tiny pre-reader on your hands!

“What’s the best way to read aloud?”Jim Trelease

Jim Trelease, creator of the long bestselling Read Aloud Handbook, writes about all the research showing conclusively that babies in the last trimester do listen to, learn from, and remember language. In Chapter 2 he goes on to encourage expectant parents to form the habit of reading to baby before birth, saying that it will be your baby’s “first class in learning.” The following is an excerpt from his “Do’s and Don’ts for Read Alouds,” with some additional suggestions from us.

Use plenty of expression when reading.
You can use your voice to reflect the meaning of the text. Use a soft voice for gentle characters and moving moments. Use a loud voice to show strong emotion or to emphasize adventure or excitement. Monotone reading will put you and your baby to sleep, so try to keep your voice lively and rich with feeling. Dr. Pam High from the AAP says, “I think [babies] understand the emotion in the words that are being read to them very, very early.”

Adjust your pace to fit the story.
Read slowly to bring attention to beautiful language and imagery. Read more quickly to show movement and action.

Preview the book by reading it to yourself ahead of time.
This way, you’ll be more comfortable when you start to read it aloud. Reading it to yourself a few times will help you plan how the story might sound when it is spoken.

May we also suggest that you choose a book that you enjoy reading as well? If you read a how-to-use-belly-booksparticular book to your baby in utero, we can assure you that that book is going to become your child’s very favorite. Your child is going to say “Please Mommy, just one more time,” or “Read it again, Daddy.” You can look forward to reading this book over and over and over again, so be sure to make it one that you love, too.

Establishing a regular reading routine before birth is one of the very best things you can do for your baby, and as with anything, developing a comfort level with reading aloud takes practice. What better time to practice than when your baby is closer to you than he will ever be again? Ten to 15 minutes a day is all that’s needed to grow a lifelong reader, and as the American Academy of Pediatrics tells us, the benefits are immeasurable.