Prenatal learning, and bonding, for creatures great and small

60128948 - newborn baby boy and dadWe stand corrected! A July 2016 article on BBC.com, Babies Start Learning Even Before They Are Born, presents a roundup of recent research findings that demonstrate the causes and effects of prenatal learning, including among different animal species. We’re always excited to read about new studies in this area, and we’re delighted to find that our February 2014 post, It’s Only Natural, contains an inaccuracy:

A very important quality that separates mammals from other creatures is our strong desire to protect and care for our young. Unlike a turtle, who lays her eggs in the sand, leaving the tiny baby turtles to return to the sea and fend for themselves alone, we mammals form a bond with our young — even before they are born — that continues for our whole lives.

We go on to tell the heartwarming story of Bella, a pregnant dolphin who whistled to her baby before and after birth, establishing not only a mother–baby bond but also a vocal signal that would be crucial to the newborn’s survival. Well, according to the BBC article, this beautiful instinct is not only a characteristic of mammals. Mother birds of various species have actually been found to communicate with their chicks still in the egg in just the same way Bella did! And fish, frogs, and salamanders have demonstrated in-egg learning too. Whether it’s telling baby animals what their mother sounds like or what their predators smell like, prenatal learning is clearly fundamental to much of the animal kingdom.

The Superb Fairy Wren chirps over her eggs to teach her chicks how to call for food after they've hatched. This gives them the edge over any nest-mates hatched from eggs deposited in the wren's nest by an interloping Bronze Cuckoo.
The Superb Fairy Wren chirps over her eggs to teach her chicks how to call for food after they’ve hatched. This gives them the edge over any nest-mates hatched from eggs deposited by an interloping Bronze Cuckoo.

It’s now broadly acknowledged that a human baby is sensing the world from inside the womb, through sound, touch, and hormone transfer, for example. The BBC article begins by discussing how food flavors are passed from mother to baby, which is another survival mechanism shared by many animals. The discussion naturally turns to that most compelling learning capacity of all: prenatal language development. In the last trimester, babies’ ears have developed enough that they can hear, recognize, and remember sounds — especially speech sounds, and especially their own mother’s speech sounds.

The article describes some of the research we’ve mentioned in which newborns’ preferences are found to be the result of their experience before birth, so that, for instance, they prefer their mother’s voice and recognize sounds typical of their parents’ language(s) over those they weren’t exposed to in utero. Really, it’s only a variation on Bella’s natural wisdom, as well as her innate urge to bond with her little one. As with dolphins and so many animals, human family and social bonding is part of our intricate survival system, in which language plays a central role. It’s no wonder we start learning the fundamentals of language well before we’re born. As the BBC article concludes, “Science is revealing that what we learn before entering the world may give us more of a head start than once thought.”

RaptA March 2016 article on PRI.com, Our Ability to Speak Doesn’t Begin with Our First Words. It Begins in the Womb, focuses on this, our favorite subject. It describes a 2015 Finnish study and current Canadian research that again have explored the effects of native versus nonnative speech sounds on newborns, and the implications for prenatal learning. The article quotes researcher Janet Werker of the University of British Columbia: “A lot of language crosses the uterine wall, and so by the time the baby is born, it’s not an inexperienced listener.”

Echoing the “head start on learning language” theme of the BBC article, this one goes a step further by describing the benefits to parents of understanding that, in Werker’s words, “their baby is interested in the world around them, and is interested in learning from the first moments of life. . . . And we like to think that this might make them treat their babies as the curious, involved little beings that they are.”

We couldn’t agree more! Even if expectant parents feel like they have to take it on faith that their little one is hearing and responding to their voices before birth, we know this will become common knowledge in due time, fueled by scientific findings like these and by mounting anecdotal evidence from new parents. We love the concluding words of the PRI article: “Doing well in the world starts with doing well in the womb. So you should talk to the baby bumps. . . . They will thank you later — in the words they learn from you.”

Yes! Talk, sing, and read to your bump. What better way to make this loving, nurturing connection with your baby in the womb than with a bedtime story? A rhyming and rhythmic story, read in your voice every night, will become as familiar to him as a dolphin’s whistle or a nesting wren’s warble — and will be just as comforting and reassuAfterring to him after he’s born. Your own innate, natural instinct to communicate and bond with your baby can be reinforced by establishing a routine centered around language, right from the beginning. Your voice, plus a beautiful book, are all you need for a natural language bond.

And if reading aloud to an unseen audience doesn’t quite feel natural to you yet, just choose a book that makes you happy, whose colorful illustrations stimulate your feel-good hormones, and whose words help you to make a deep connection with your child. The combination of the engaging language and your familiar, loving voice will enhance the bond between you and your little one. By creating a relationship grounded in caring dialogue, you will naturally foster your child’s amazing drive to explore, understand, and communicate with his world.

20140225-BELLYBOOKS-FC-AMZN-1The very best book for the purpose, we just have to say, is our own Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be. It’s not only rhythmic and rhyming, not only beautiful, but even shaped to snuggle around that “curious, involved little being” curled up inside you, listening raptly, learning avidly, and loving already.

Those magical 15 minutes

3739962_sYou’re a busy mom or dad, folding the laundry, thinking about what to make for dinner, trying to remember who you need to pick up, when and from where.

Suddenly you’re pulled from your thoughts by a sound like million tinkling bells, and you turn to see an iridescent green cloud billowing out of the laundry-detergent bottle. From inside the cloud emerges a genie! He looks at you kindly, seeing that you’re overwhelmed with household duties.

“O humble, toiling one!” says the genie. “You have been working so very hard! I’m going to give you a beautiful gift.”

A gift! From a genie! What could it be?

“I am going to give you 15 minutes! Fifteen whole minutes to do with whatever you desire.” The genie looks beneficent and proud.

Your face falls. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but really? Just 15 minutes? Accepting your faltering thanks, the genie vanishes back into the detergent bottle and you return to your thoughts.

Cupcake“What can I do with 15 minutes?” you wonder. “That’s not enough time to do anything! Well, I guess I could eat a whole salted-caramel cupcake, licking the frosting off first and savoring every bite . . . but I’d probably regret that. I could organize my sock and underwear drawer, but 15 minutes would barely make a dent. Hmmm.”

Well, what if we told you that with 15 minutes every day you could do something so powerful, so amazing, so truly magical that it would change your life and the life of your family forever?

© Copyright 2009 Corbis CorporationWe’re no genies, but we can tell you how to perform this magic: READ!

Study after study is showing conclusively the incredible benefits to parents and children of having a regular storytime routine. And just 15 minutes a day is all it takes.

“Read?” you say, “I’d rather have the cupcake!” OK, eating a cupcake for 15 minutes every day does sound like fun, but over time the only thing you’ll have to show for it will be on your hips. On the other hand, the rewards of a regular storytime routine can’t be measured, and over time they only grow. For a fun infographic on the many reasons to read aloud for 15 minutes (and unfortunate statistics about how many people don’t) please check out this wonderful poster from ReadAloud.org.

11683521_sAll right, so you’re ready to accept the genie’s gift and pass it on to your child, but where in your day should you carve out that 15 minutes? We suggest you begin your regular reading time at bedtime. There’s been a lot of hoopla lately about the benefits of bedtime stories, and with good reason. Reading for 15 minutes at bedtime not only exposes children to new vocabulary, develops reading and language skills, promotes brain growth, inspires empathy and encourages family bonding.

It also settles children down! We’d like to see a cupcake that can do that!

There is an amazing physiological and biological phenomenon that takes place when families sit down together and snuggle around a book. Levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that gets us all riled up, are30926735_s measurably reduced in both parents and children when they cuddle up together. Meanwhile, Oxytocin, the bonding hormone that makes us melt over babies (and puppies, and all things adorable), increases, making this close family time one crazy-happy 15-minute love-fest!

Better yet, it can then become a soothing sleepy-fest. We’re going to give you our usual advice about when to begin practicing your sacred storytime: even before your baby is born. Experts say that if an expectant mother settles down at the same time each evening, her baby will become conditioned to settle down at that same time. Her heartbeat and breathing will slow down at this time every night, and so will her baby’s. Add a bedtime story to the mix and you have a recipe for a newborn who is sleepy, relaxed, and calmed by the words he knows so well.

And if expectant parents read to their baby for 15 minutes each night during the last trimester, they will see the magic firsthand once the baby is born. Way back in 1986, DeCasper and Spence showed that newborns responded more positively to a familiar rhyme read to them by their mother before birth than to an unfamiliar story, and others have been expanding on these findings ever since (see numerous studies in our Research sidebar list). Most recently (reported on Brain Decoder in July 2015), researchers at the University of Salzburg conducted similar experiments with mothers, as well as strangers, reading nursery rhymes to their babies in the third trimester. They found that the sound of an unfamiliar rhyme read by a stranger increased stress responses in the newborns, but that the familiar rhymes, spoken by either their mother or a stranger, had a calming effect.

Lots of new parents we know have found the same to be true (including those who regularly read our book to their babies in utero!), and there’s a growing body of anecdotal evidence out there for the Googling, but there’s nothing like personal experience. If you’re pregnant, especially in your third Rapttrimester, why not give it a try? Snuggle up with your partner tonight, and every night, for just 15 minutes with a bedtime story — especially one that’s rhythmic and rhyming — for your expected little one. Then keep that cozy ritual going when baby arrives, and watch its effects. Does he stop crying? Turn in the direction of your voice? Move his face and body in response to the story?

Well, that’s just the beginning. If you continue that 15 minutes of shared family reading time throughout your child’s life, you won’t need a genie after all. Just a little time, your voice, and a beloved story will create real and lasting magic for your child.

“Making Books Part of a Healthy Childhood”

17730593_sReach out for your favorite book. Reach out to a child and share a story together. Reach out to thousands of parents and give them free books to share with their children. Reach out to pediatricians and nurses across the country to educate them about the benefits to children of a regular storytime, and train them to teach this to their patients. Reach Out and Read!

Thanks to the nonprofit organization Reach Out and Read, receiving a picture book has become a regular part of many a child’s first well-baby visit. ROR “builds on the unique relationship between parents and medical providers to develop critical early reading skills in children, beginning in infancy.” It’s become mainstream practice for pediatricians to give books, right along with checkups, to young patients in over 5,000 Reach Out and Read program sites in the U.S. Participating doctors and nurses have provided almost 7 million books to children and families nationwide!

Reach Out and Read Washington State
Reach Out and Read Washington State

The best part is that not only are doctors and nurses providing the first book to families who may not otherwise have access to them, but they also dispense invaluable advice about the benefits of adopting a storytime routine right from the start. Reach Out and Read actively trains health care practitioners so that they can share with patients the most recent research and practices in reading aloud to children, as well as specific instructions to begin reading, talking and singing to babies as a regular part of raising a healthy child.

This wonderful organization has been reaching out for over 25 years! But most recently some major wind has been added to their sails by a strong public recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics, our country’s largest and most respected group of children’s healthcare professionals. As we reported in our June 2014 post, the AAP said that parents should read to their babies as early as possible, that reading is an “essential” element of doctor visits, and that the benefits and implications for brain development, language acquisition, and family bonding, among others, are boundless. Pediatricians were urged to convey the message that reading regularly with children is paramount to their health and well-being.

None of this was surprising to the folks at ROR, but the AAP’s public recommendation inspired the creation of a dream team of literacy advocates that further empowered their mission. This powerhouse collaborative includes not only ROR and the AAP but also Too Small to Fail, a Clinton Foundation initiative, and Scholastic Books, one of the leaders in the children’s book industry. This collaborative has been educating the public about the importance for children of early exposure to language and literacy. Their work has already had a powerful impact on parents, educators, literacy advocates, medical professionals, and policymakers across the country and around the globe.

123rfReach Out and Read is an “evidence-based” organization that has piloted many of its own studies to lend to the body of research supporting this practice. One such study, published in the journal Pediatrics in May 2004, found a direct correlation between the number of ROR interactions a family was exposed to during well-child visits and the number of literacy-centered activities that took place in a child’s home. They found that even “a modest literacy intervention such as ROR can have a significant impact on a child’s home literacy environment,” and that children who had a great deal of ROR interaction reported that reading was one of their favorite activities.

Just last month, the organization began another very exciting pilot study with families of babies in the NICU at Boston City Medical Center to discover the impact that regular read-aloud time has on premature infants. Previous research has shown that “premature infants are exposed to less language in utero and after birth than term infants” and that “early language exposure is essential for normal language development.” In the study, ROR and professionals at the Boston City Medical center will provide literacy-centered education and interaction for the first five years of each child’s life and measure the child’s engagement with books and reading.

Graham's Foundation
Graham’s Foundation

This exciting pilot study builds on a recent discovery that babies in the NICU develop the language and auditory centers in their brains more quickly when their mothers read to them regularly. As found by previous studies we’ve reported here, babies learn language from their mother during the last trimester, but babies born too soon are deprived of this essential developmental period. However, it appears that these premature infants can catch up to their full-term counterparts when they hear stories, lullabies and songs for a few hours each day. By having parents read to premature babies, and then throughout their childhood, ROR hopes to add to their growing body of evidence about the positive effects that shared family storytime has on a child’s growth, development and well-being.

ReadingOf course, we at the Reading Womb always want to take it a step further! Many family practices that utilize ROR include obstetrics, and maybe someday they will also educate expectant parents about the importance of reading aloud to babies in the womb. In addition to all the benefits of in utero reading that we regularly touch upon here, the practice offers valuable support to new parents who want to incorporate storytime into their newborn’s daily schedule. All parents want to do what’s best for their baby, but when she finally arrives they may find themselves overwhelmed by all their new responsibilities. Three (or more) months of rehearsal would be a huge help!

AfterAfter a period of practicing reading to their baby in utero, during that time of relatively quiet anticipation before their lives change so dramatically, reading aloud to their newborn will be one of the few tasks that new parents will feel competent in. They can 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 benefits.

Thank you for the great work that you do, Reach Out and Read, and the precious gift you’re giving to families. Your reach extends far and wide!

In distinguished company

MCA_PH_400x400We couldn’t be more proud and pleased to announce that Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be, the first board book specially written and shaped for expectant parents to read to their baby in utero, has been distinguished by the Mom’s Choice Awards with a gold medal!

The Reading Womb and Belly Books wholeheartedly share Mom’s Choice’s mission of “helping families grow emotionally, spiritually and physically.” We’re proud to show off its seal of approval, which reflects “the best in family-friendly media, products and services.”

You’ve probably come across Mom’s Choice seals on your favorite kids’ books for years. In their words, “Products and services bearing the companys mother-and-child Honoring Excellence Seal of Approval have earned the MCA distinction for helping families grow emotionally, physically and spiritually; being morally sound and promoting good will; and inspirational and uplifting.”

Here’s how the organization describes this prestigious award:

It’s our joy to acknowledge those who are fueled only by their passion to make a better world as they write an inspiring book or design a helpful product. Around the world, parents, educators, retailers and the media trust us for our product reviews and evaluations.

Family ReadIt truly is our passion to make a better world by helping parents understand the enormous benefits — and the intrinsic rewards — of establishing a regular family reading time even before baby is born. Reading enhances not only brain and cognitive development but the parent-child bond. Reading brings with it not only worlds of adventure and learning, but vast possibilities of connection between human beings. And the amazing fact is that the baby in the third trimester of pregnancy is already able to join in this miraculous process.

Please stop by the Mom’s Choice Winners Shop and browse their extensive catalogue, and then have a look at their Mom’s Choice Matters blog. Of course, if you haven’t already gotten your copy of Can’t Wait to Show You, you can order it here!

NewbornThank you so much, Mom’s Choice Awards! We promise to make you proud.

Let’s make it a movement!

Dear readers,

FutureThe recent upsurge of interest you’ve shown in the benefits of in utero reading has been very exciting for us to watch, as has been the continuing stream of scientific research into the subject.

Now we’re asking ourselves: What will transform this interest into a movement? And we think the answer is: lots more anecdotal evidence from parents themselves, not to mention grandparents and others closely involved in the pregnancy and birth.

So we’re putting out a call, urging you more strongly than ever to give this practice a try,  to add to the body of informal research and watch how the movement grows. Will the next generation be even more sensitive, curious, and intelligent than the last?

HappyTo make it really easy for you, we’re offering a crazy discount on our beautiful board book, Can’t Wait to Show You, created specially for reading to the baby in the womb.

From now until August 10, use promo code 2V39994M for a full $5 off every purchase on Amazon!

And don’t be shy about reporting your experiences with us! You can share your stories, maybe even your before-and-after photos, via a blog comment, email, Facebook, Twitter, or Amazon review.

Now, just in case you need more motivation to overcome a bit of skepticism, or even a feeling of awkwardness about reading to an unseen listener, here is a quick review of the benefits of reading to babies before and after birth. . .

FamilyAn abundance of research over the last several years has shown that babies in the third trimester of pregnancy can hear and recognize words spoken by their mother (and father and others, too), and remember them after birth. There is conclusive and compelling evidence showing that the benefits of reading to your baby before birth are immediate and long-lasting.

Your baby will become familiar with your unique voice: Research shows that babies recognize the voice of their mother at birth and can distinguish their mother’s voice from that of a stranger.

LoveBonding with your baby prenatally benefits his future health and emotional well-being: When a pregnant woman feels love for her expected child in the womb, she releases endorphins (“feel good” hormones), which trigger the same hormone release in the baby. The result is a baby who has unhindered physical, cognitive, and neurological growth, and who is born with a general sense of safety and well-being.

When you take time to relax and read, your baby relaxes, too: When an expectant mother’s heartbeat and breathing slow down, her baby responds physiologically, endocrinologically, and neurologically. These responses have a positive effect on the baby’s growth and development.

Your baby will begin to learn language: Hearing speech patterns and rhythms in the womb begins to teach babies their primary language.

RaptA familiar, rhythmic story will soothe your newborn: Newborn babies show a clear preference for the rhythm and melody of a song or poem that they heard regularly from the womb. Babies actually remember a rhythmic poem or story that they heard during the last trimester for up to four weeks after birth, and they’re measurably calmed by that familiar story.

The more words your baby hears, the better adjusted and more successful she will be in life: There is a direct correlation between the amount that parents talk to babies and their academic and social success. The more words a baby hears in the early years, the more advanced her language and literacy development will be in the future.

SharingReading to your child before and after birth strengthens family and social bonds: Establishing a routine around reading creates a sacred, centered, regular time devoted to you and your child. This helps expectant parents and siblings develop a relationship with the baby before birth, easing the transition into parenthood and siblinghood. In the bigger picture, family reading helps establish a culture in which literacy and language are a priority.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents read to their baby as early as possible: Establishing a regular reading routine before birth is one of the very best things parents can do for their children, and at last there’s a book especially designed for the purpose! Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be, has all the research-recommended ingredients for inspiration and success:

  • The rollicking rhythm and rhymes are easy to read and will be soothing music to baby’s ears.
  • Visual appeal for the newborn: This bright and colorful board book will capture baby’s attention, and the chunky design and easy-to-grasp pages are baby-friendly.Enjoy
  • 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 over the newborn’s belly when he or she arrives!

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.

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.