The benefits of reading to your baby starting in the womb

'Books for Babies' supports new moms in Benton and Franklin Counties by offering free literacy resources.
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KENNEWICK, Wash. –A third of children are not prepared for Kindergarten with the essential learning skills, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. But early childhood education experts said parents can change those statistics by reading to their baby starting in the womb. 

By the time a child is five, their brains are 90% developed; reading during these formative years is essential in setting your child up for a successful future, according to Elizabeth Barnes, the executive director for the Children’s Reading Foundation of the Mid-Columbia (CRFMC).

“The baby’s brain starts to develop language in the third trimester, as those pathways are being laid down in the brain. Reading and talking to the baby at that time is really important. The baby actually hears Mom, internally as well as externally, so they really are learning mom’s voice,” said Nurse Marie Hutson, a program manager with the Nurse-Family Partnership program who works with first-time moms.

Nurse Hutson said if you don’t have a baby book with you, you can read the newspaper or a book you like. She also said they would benefit from you describing your environment or the sounds you hear, even describing family members from photos can be powerful. Consistency is essential whether you are reading or speaking with your baby, said Hutson. 

In order to make sure that new moms have this vital information, the Children’s Reading Foundation of the Mid-Columbia’s ‘Books for Babies’ program is giving free literacy resources to every single new mom after they give birth in a Benton and Franklin County hospital for their fourth year. 

Crfmc Books For Babies Logo Color SquareThanks to a generous sponsorship from STCU for their third year in a row, CRFMC was able to support 2,000 new moms in 2021. Elizabeth Burtner, the community development manager at STCU, said that she loves that the new baby board books given in the program are in both English and Spanish “because that meets the needs of our community as a whole.”

“Starting kids out young even before they enter school, and helping them understand the value of reading and getting parents on that same board is so important to us.” – Elizabeth Burtner, Community Development Manager, STCU.

According to Barnes, reading with your children 20 minutes a day expands their vocabulary and exposes them to 1.8 million words a year. That repetition is also crucial in helping babies feel safe, said Hutson. 

RELATED: Reading for the Future: The importance of reading 20 minutes a day

“We get tired of the same book over and over again, but for the babies and children, it’s important because they need to learn that they can control their world. When you read a book that they are familiar with it, gives them that sense of ‘Oh, I know what’s coming.’ That’s very powerful for them,” said Hutson.

“If parents read a book over and over again in the womb, babies can recognize it after they are born.” -Nurse Marie Hutson

Nurse Hutson said no instruction manual comes with a newborn, but it’s important to remember that you know what’s best for your baby. 

“You are not going to be perfect. In fact, babies who have perfect parents are anxious. So you don’t want to be perfect. Just admit you made a mistake and try to do better next time. And admitting to the baby, ‘Oops, I made a mistake; that wasn’t how that was supposed to be.’ That is very valuable to the baby,” said Hutson. 

If you are a new mom, you may be eligible for free services. According to Hutson, the Nurse-Family Partnership offers support for first-time moms, giving up to 64 free in-home nurse visits for the first two years of your baby’s life.

The Nurse-Family Partnership is a program offered by Benton-Franklin Health District with funding from the Department of Children Youth and Families and the Benton County Public Safety Tax. The program is available for women under 28 weeks pregnant, have had no previous live births, live in Benton or Franklin Counties, and are in a low-income situation.

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