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Womb to World: Reading and Talking With Babies

It is never too early to talk.

Talking with your baby, reading with your baby, and engaging in conversations is a great way to foster learning. Now there is new evidence suggesting that babies begin learning patterns of language even before they are born (1). What does this mean for expecting parents?

Choose books your baby will enjoy

Talking and singing with your baby and reading with your baby even before birth can be a way to foster early social interactions and even later learning. How to do it?

It is never too early to begin selecting books for your baby. Adventures, sports, cuisine, art, animals, science, and history are just some of the themes that you and your baby might enjoy sharing.

What stories and topics do you enjoy? What themes will you enjoy sharing with your baby? You will likely enjoy sharing books with your baby that you enjoyed as a child. I just picked up Arnold Lobel’s Frog & Toad Together and The Peter Yarrow Songbook: Favorite Folk Songs for my little niece and nephew still in their 29th-week gestation. I’m sure they will already love hearing these stories and songs (not to mention hearing your voice).

Make use of the library

Begin your babies’ book collection early. Get a library card. If you have time, you might even visit your local library and check out the children’s section before your baby arrives.

Libraries can be a great place to read, relax and learn together. Libraries can also be a great place to meet other parents and children. You will notice that many libraries and even children’s bookshops offer free storytime for babies, toddlers, and children.

You will certainly have less free time to look into library classes when your baby arrives, so consider planning ahead. As you are stocking up on diapers and bibs, pick up a library card and calendar and ask about local library classes for babies.

Read aloud before your baby is born

It is never too early to start developing a reading routine with your baby. One way to develop shared reading time is by exploring and reading books aloud to your baby even before he or she is born. Babies recognize your voice even before they are born (2). Once your baby arrives, try reading a bit each day.

By the time your newborn is about 4 months old, you may want to read for 30 to 60 minutes a day. You might find time to read with your baby for 10 minutes in the morning. Then you might read with your newborn for 20 minutes as he or she is getting ready for nap time. You might read immediately after dinner for 10-15 minutes and for 15 minutes before your baby goes to sleep at night. If your baby has several caregivers, each of you can read at different times. Research shows that babies enjoy interacting with different people and learning from various conversational styles (3).

Involve others

Most likely, your new baby will have visitors such as aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and grandparents. One way to foster a love of reading and communication is to ask your visitors to read a book with your baby.

What’s the scientific evidence? For more information, see the references section below.


1. Eino Partanen et al. 2013 “Learning-induced neural plasticity of speech processing before birth” at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. doi:10.1073/pnas.1302159110.

2. B.S. Kisilevsky et al. (2009). Fetal sensitivity to properties of maternal speech and language. Infant Behavior and Development, 59-71. doi:10.1016/j.infbeh.2008.10.002.

3. Anne E. Bigelow & Cindy DeCoste (2003) Sensitivity to Social Contingency From Mothers and Strangers in 2-, 4-, and 6-Month-Old Infants. Infancy, doi: 10.1207/S15327078IN0401_6.

More from Tricia Striano Skoler Ph.D.
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More from Tricia Striano Skoler Ph.D.
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