The Benefits of Reading to Your Baby

Get ready to break out your copy of Goodnight Moon! Research shows it’s never too early to start reading with your little one, so we broke down nine important benefits of books. 

By Linda DiProperzio and Alison Fox

There’s nothing better than picking up a classic children’s book and sharing it with your baby. From The Very Hungry Caterpillar to Llama Llama Red Pajama, stories can create special moments for parents and infants. But did you know reading aloud can also help with language development, emotional learning, school success, and more? Here are nine reasons you should read to your baby early and often.

Reading Promotes Bonding and Fosters Emotional Connections

Reading aloud can strengthen the emotional bonds between babies and parents. “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, M.D., with Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. “It exposes the baby to the sound of your voice, which is soothing for [them].”

In fact, a recent study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found book reading had positive effects on preterm infants in the NICU and their parents, who were better able to “cope with a difficult experience, reinstating their role as primary caregiver.”

Reading Boosts Brain Power

Research shows children who were read to as newborns have a larger vocabulary and more advanced mathematical skills than other kids their age. For example, take a 2019 study published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. It found that when caregivers read one picture book daily to their infants, they’re exposed to around 78,000 words each year. In the five years before kindergarten starts, researchers estimate that “children from literacy-rich homes hear a cumulative 1.4 million more words during storybook reading than children who are never read to.”

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Reading Improves Language Skills

There’s a direct link between how many words a baby hears each day and their language skills. An Association for Psychological Science study found “infants who hear more talk have more opportunities to interpret language, and to exercise skills such as segmenting speech and accessing lexical representations that are vital to word learning.”

Reading Introduces Emotion

Babies are exposed to feelings through the different sounds used when reading, whether you’re performing a voice for a specific character or describing what’s going on. “You simply can’t hear that type of emotion in music or through watching TV,” says Dr. Abrams. “The spoken word conveys the idea that words have meaning and certain sounds mean certain things.”

Books Expose Babies to Visuals

From 0 to 3 months, children start focusing their eyes on simple patterns on the pages. Reading picture books presents newborns with a variety of shapes, letters, and colors they will begin to recognize as the months go on.

Reading Can Actually Elicit a Response

After reading to a baby for a while, parents may notice their little one responding to the rhythmic movement of their voice with their arms and legs. “Being read to helps children see and hear what is around them, and respond in kind,” says Kenneth Wible, M.D., of Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Missouri.

It Prepares Kids to Read on Their Own

Babies might not understand what you’re saying, but they can still pick up the rhythm, tones, and inflections of your voice, says Dr. Wible. Research shows the more words a baby is exposed to, the better prepared they are to eventually start reading on their own.

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Books Show Children Reading Is Fun

When reading is part of your regular family routine, children will learn that it’s something to be enjoyed—not a chore that needs to be completed for class. That attitude will foster a love of reading that will take them through school and into adulthood.

Parents Can Read Whatever They Want

Bored with children’s books? Don’t worry! Since newborns can’t understand words yet, parents get to choose whatever they want to read. Pick a newspaper article, a romance novel, or even a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick—it’s all fair game.

Parents can also try different types of books to see what their baby responds to, from picture books to ones with interactive flaps or those with touch and feel features. The Cleveland Clinic recommends chunky board books babies can hold, as well as books with bright colors and big pictures.

Ultimately though, it doesn’t really matter what you’re reading at the earliest stages, as long as you’re doing it.

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