Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Baby, A Book, A Lifetime of Benefits

By Taryn Barrette, RD

How important is reading to your baby? Does it really make a difference? After all babies can’t understand what you read, right? Wrong. Research shows us that the sheer number of words spoken to babies (by people, not computers, phones, or TVs) between birth and 3 years of age improves babies' brain function, vocabularies, as well as their abilities to speak and relate to others. This advantage begins early and extends into preschool, grade school and beyond. Reading to your baby is an easy and fun way to create some wonderful memories while increasing the number of words your baby hears.

Books Benefit Brains
Babies are born to learn. When babies are introduced to books, they gain a broader exposure to words they wouldn’t hear during typical day-to-day activities. For example, a baby may hear the words “dad, diaper, table, door, and potato” on a regular basis, but words like “zebra, princess, Saturn or cactus” are not part of daily conversations. Additionally, books can help children learn about human emotions, numbers, colors, and word-picture associations. Researchers are still unsure about the best age to start reading to children but we do know that children who are read to as babies have higher scores on oral language, reading comprehension, and general intelligence tests than children who were not read to as infants.

Books Benefit Babies’ Relationships
Reading to your baby creates a warm positive atmosphere around books so that your baby will enjoy exploring books later in life. Reading may also provide special one-on-one bonding time with your baby as he snuggles in your lap, pointing to the pictures or words on the page. Reading can also create opportunities to bring the whole family together. Your baby will love to hear your voice as you read more complex stories to your older children. Just be ready with a distracting toy in case your baby loses interest too quickly.

How Do Babies Experience Reading?
Though they aren’t actually reading the words, babies are observing you as you turn the pages, point to pictures, and make facial expressions to show emotions. Reading is an interactive experience. Reading will help you develop a comforting routine, especially at bedtime. Babies will enjoy reading the same book many times. Though The Very Hungry Caterpillar or another baby-classic may not be intellectually stimulating for you, your baby will enjoy the familiarity of the words and pictures and love being able to predict what will happen next.

Picking a Baby Book
It seems like there are an infinite number of options for baby books these days. While you should pick stories you like (you’ll be reading them over and over!), some important attributes of good baby books are:
  • Sturdiness – babies like to explore with their mouths. Enough said.
  • Colors – bright, contrasting colors and patterns are best for babies.
  • Length – pick short books with few words, an infant’s ability to focus is relatively short.
  • Texture – as babies get older, they will enjoy flipping and opening doors and labels on books. Having scratchy, fuzzy and smooth surfaces is interesting and engaging.

We hope these tips will help inspire you to get your baby off to the right start by exposing him to the joys of reading.

Next time: Our Favorite Baby and Toddler Books!

1. Jack, Kate. ‘Why Babies Need Books’ http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=1513. Accessed Jan.13, 2011.
2. Debaryshe, B. (1993). Joint picture-book reading correlates of early oral language skill. Journal of Child Language, 20, pp 455-461.
3. Karrass, J. (2004). Effects of shared parent-infant book reading on early language acquisition. Applied Devel Psych, 26, pp 133-148.
4. Tomasello, M. (1992), The social bases of language acquisition. Social Development, 1: 67–87.


  1. We read to our son while he was in my womb and he enjoys reading now, with us and on his own. (He's 12 mos.)

  2. I shared this post with a Breastfeeding and Parenting support group that I facilitate. The moms were really appreciative for this information, as well as your lists of books that followed. They also shared some of their own favorite children's books. Now each of the moms has a huge collection to choose from!