The Benefits of Reading to Your Newborn
It's bonding time
"Reading a book to your newborn is a one-on-one activity that you can really turn into a special time with your baby," says Mary Ann Abrams, MD, Reach Out and Read's Medical Director (reachoutandread.org). "It exposes the baby to the sound of your voice, which is soothing for him." In fact, a recent study in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics found that reading to babies in the NICU can help parents develop the same feelings of intimacy that parents of healthy newborns cultivate in the days and weeks after a baby's birth.
It preps him for reading on his own
While your newborn doesn't understand what you're saying, he can still begin to pick up the rhythm, tones and inflections of your voice, says Kenneth Wible, MD, of Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Missouri. Research shows that the more words a baby is exposed to, the better prepared he is to eventually start reading on his own.
It boosts brain power
Studies have also shown that children who were read to as newborns have a larger vocabulary, as well as more advanced mathematical skills, than other kids their age. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, for example, found that kids who are read to every day are exposed to around 78,000 words each year—over five years, that adds up to 1.4 million words heard during story time.
There's also a direct link between how many words a baby hears each day and her language skills. One study found that babies whose parents spoke to them a lot scored higher on standard tests when they reached age 3 than children whose parents weren't as verbal.
It gets a response
Dr. Wible says that after reading to your newborn for a while, you'll actually notice your little one responding to the rhythmic movement of your voice with her arms and legs. "Being read to helps children see and hear what is around them, and respond in kind," he says.
It introduces emotion
Your baby is exposed to feelings through the different sounds you use when reading, whether it's doing a voice for a specific character or describing what's going on in the book. "You simply can't hear that type of emotion in music or through watching TV," explains Dr. Abrams. "The spoken word conveys the idea that words have meaning and certain sounds mean certain things."
It exposes them to visuals
From 0 to 3 months, your child will start focusing his or her eyes on simple patterns on the pages. Reading picture books presents your newborn with a variety of shapes, letters and colors that she will begin to recognize as the months go on.
It shows them that reading is fun
Making it a part of your regular family routine will teach your child that reading is something to be enjoyed, not a chore that needs to be done for school. That attitude will foster a love of reading that will take her through school and into adulthood.
Bonus: You really can read whatever you want!
Bored with children's books? Don't worry—since newborns can't understand your words yet, you get to choose what the two of you are reading. A newspaper article, a chick-lit novel or even a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick. It doesn't matter what you're reading right now, as long as you're doing it!