'Are you going to read to the baby?' is a common question plenty of dads to be get asked during pregnancy.
Generally, that question means during pregnancy. Not after the birth.
We all know the mental and emotional benefits of reading ourselves, but these are particularly important when reading to our children.
But it's quite a bit easier to do when baby arrives and is there in your arms or tucked up in bed. Some parents to be find it a bit strange and uncomfortable to talk or read to a person's stomach, especially before a bump is really showing.
Whether you already know you want to do it, or need a little encouragement, we've put together this guide to look at the benefits of reading to your baby in the womb, and the best books for story time.
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Benefits of reading to your baby during pregnancy
If you're not a big reader yourself, perhaps you're not aware of the many, many benefits it offers us. And it's no exaggeration to say that it also offers dads to be a particularly unique set of benefits, too.
So that's why reading is such a great thing for us to do. But what about reading to your baby during pregnancy?
Bonding is arguably the single biggest benefit of reading to your baby in the womb, and is usually the biggest reason why dads to be do it. Being the one who is carrying the baby, your pregnant partner will already have a connection with your baby during pregnancy. Reading is our way to helping to kick start that bond before the big day comes and helps us feel empowered as we prepare for fatherhood.
As your baby becomes more and more familiar with your voice, they will find it more and more soothing. If they're uncomfortable or stressed in the womb, hearing your voice will help to calm them down. That itself can help your partner to have a healthy pregnancy with a healthy baby. It's well documented that stress during pregnancy for mother or baby can increase the risk of complications.
There is evidence to suggest that early exposure to varied language significantly alters brain development in babies and young children. Psychologist Anne Fernald of Stanford University says that “a child’s mental processing speed ... is shaped through rich engagement with language.” In time, it leads to greater vocabulary, better memory, conceptual ability and reasoning.
When some people learn that reading to a baby in the womb helps to stimulate their brain and accelerate their brain development, they believe that it makes them smarter. But this is not the case.
What to read to your baby in the womb
Your baby is responding to the sound of your voice, rather than the words coming out of your mouth. So on that basis, it doesn't really matter what you read to your baby.If you wanted to, you could just read the latest bestselling novel.
It's the reason why some will often read their pregnancy books to the bump. It's the repeated sound of your voice that your baby is bonding with, so picking up a copy of our dad's pregnancy book You're Going to be a Dad or the a hefty fiction book will give you plenty of opportunity to sit down and bond with your baby.
That being said, reading simple children's stories may help to soothe your baby because they're typically well written with plenty of rhyming and alliteration, which adds a lovely flow to the voice.
When to start reading to your baby during pregnancy
Some parents to be start talking to the pregnant partner's womb as soon as they find our they're expecting, while other parents find it uncomfortable or awkward to sit and talk at someone's stomach. There's no right or wrong answer - it's just whatever you feel comfortable with.
But is there a 'best' time to start reading to your baby in the womb?
Not really, but understanding a little more about your baby's development can help some parents to be feel a bit more confident.
Your baby's ears and the inner structures of the ear all start to develop and take shape in the first trimester of pregnancy, which can be enough to give some dads to be the confidence they need to sit and talk to their partner's stomach for a short while.
Although the physical structures of the ear are taking shape in the first trimester, the ears only start to detect noises from around 18 weeks. However, by around the 28-30 week mark in the third trimester, your baby's receptiveness to sound is so well developed that they will be able to turn their head in response to sound.
So, if you're reading to your baby in the final trimester, there's a good chance they're turning to the sound of your voice.
6 best books to read to your baby in the womb
Let's take a look at some of our favourite books you can read to your little one before they're born.
“I adore this book. It always makes me emotional. Fun to read, beautiful messaging about life. I buy this every time a friend has a baby."
Oh, Baby, The Places You'll Go! is an adaptation of Dr. Seuss' Oh, The Places You'll Go in which "you" (the baby being read to) explore the joys of life through meeting many of the iconic characters from Dr. Seuss' other publications. This adaptation was published specifically to read to young babies and babies in the womb. When we create new life, we often spend time developing hopes and dreams for them. We wonder what our children will be when they grow up, the hobbies they'll have, and the adventures they'll go on - which is captured perfectly in both Dr. Seuss' original story and this adaptation.
One note of warning, it doesn't work very well on Kindle.
What we love
- Usual fantastic Seussian style
- Short, simple sentences that will help soothe your baby
- A brilliantly apt story for a dad to be
- Makes for a great keepsake
“Absolutely stunning words with fantastic artwork. This is sure to find a special place in your heart and would be a perfect addition to any child's library."
Continuing the theme of the hopes and dreams we hold for our children, I Wish For You considers the lessons we can learn from the animal kingdom, teaching the importance of kindness, empathy, self-respect, community, resilience and more.
What we love
- Beautifully illustrated
- Wonderful book to keep reading for years to come
“Litte Nutbrown Hare is a timeless classic for little ones in my opinion. A favourite of my kids, now in their 20s. Bought for a little girl to read with her parents to new baby brother."
One of the classic children's stories, Guess How Much I Love You follows the adorable game played by Big Nutbrown Hare and Little Nutbrown Hare as they try to express how much they love each other. This is a board book and toy gift set, making it a great option as a keepsake for when your baby is born and grows up.
What we love
- The board book is more durable as your child starts to hold and read it themself
- The little cuddly toy Little Nutbrown Hare is adorable
- A heartwarming story
“Lovely gift for a child. Beautifully illustrated and charming sentiment of what amazing things you might do in your life."
The Wonderful Things You Will Be is a much-loved classic for parents and young children. It's another inspirational children's book that talks about a child's potential, and the hopes and dreams we hold for them. It's written in a lovely, flowing rhyme which is sure to put your baby (and you and your partner!) at ease.
What we love
- A former New York Times bestseller and one of the top rated children's books on Amazon
- Lovely illustrations
- Simple but effective rhyming structure
“Lovely book, beautifully illustrated. I'd forgotten how many nursery rhymes there were. A great book to read along with little ones. Highly recommended."
We know that rhyming is great for soothing little ones in the womb, so why not get a big book of nursery rhymes? With over 200 pages and 100 nursery rhymes, you'll never be short of something to read (or sing) to your little one. It's brilliantly illustrated and features classics such as Humpty Dumpty, Three Blind Mice, Old McDonald Had a Farm and many, many more.
What we love
- All the favourites you remember from your childhood in one place
- The illustrations are magnificent
“Flows nicely, well illustrated. We like it a lot, bought as a gift of a friend's new baby."
Welcome To Your World celebrates giving birth and bringing new life into the world throughout the animal kingdom. It's a really tender and emotional exploration of the loving connection you have with your baby, and tells them all about the wonders the natural world has to offer through the eyes of various adult and baby animal pairings.
What we love
- Written specifically about becoming a new parent and bringing a baby into the world
- Lovely rhyming pattern
- Helps to instil a love of nature from early on
Reading after birth
Some parents question the value of reading to a baby even in the so-called fourth trimester - the three months after they've been born. In fact, a study conducted in the US in 2017 found that less than 20% of parents were reading to their six month old babies five times a week.
However, the benefits of reading to your baby in the womb certainly continue after birth. In fact, they intensify because the physical contact you're now able to have only strengthens and maintains the bond that has developed from reading.
The chances are that if you have been reading (or plan to read) to your baby during pregnancy, then you'll continue that once they are born.
If not, it's never too late to start!
Why should dads read to their baby in the womb?
Reading to a baby in the womb is one of the best ways a dad can start to create a bond between them from an early stage. By the time they're born, they will already be familiar by your voice and find it incredibly soothing.
Does reading to a baby in the womb make them smarter?
This is a common myth. It's true that reading to a baby in the womb does stimulate brain activity, and many people have taken this to mean it makes them smarter. But there is no evidence to suggest that children are smarter as a result of being read to during pregnancy.
When should you start reading to your baby during pregnancy?
It's totally up to you. Some dads to be start around the third trimester because that's when their baby's ability to hear sound has really developed.
It's never too late to start!
Is singing to the bump good for the baby?
Definitely. Babies recognise the flow of your voice and change in tones. You could sing songs to them, or combine reading and singing with some nursery rhymes.