What to Read to Your Baby in Utero

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Reading to kids from a young age has tons of benefits, but did you know that there are also benefits to reading to your baby while still in utero?

I’m expecting my first baby in November. One of my first thoughts as I started to dream about who this little person would be was, “I can’t wait until she can read!” I have big dreams of seeing my daughter fall in love with books from a young age. I can’t wait to read with her. But then I thought, why not start now?

What Can a Fetus Hear?

A fetus is able to hear distinct sounds starting at around 18 weeks. They have been known to respond to voices and noises from as early as 24 weeks. Infants can learn to recognize their mother’s voice while still in the womb. After birth, some babies even respond with recognition to songs they heard while still in utero. Reading to your unborn baby is also a great way to bond (something I found difficult to do in those early weeks of constant vomiting). Taking the time to read a story out loud helps me relax and take a break from all of those checklists of things to do to prepare for her arrival.

How Should I Read?

Hearing in the womb is sort of like listening to someone talk with a hand cupped over their mouth. Your baby can differentiate different sounds, but can’t hear individual words clearly. (Of course, they don’t understand language yet.) What they can hear are differences in tones and rhythms. Books with rhymes or a strong sense of rhythm. Since sounds with longer wavelengths travel better through the skin, muscle, and fluid between you and your baby, try to use a low register.

What Should I Read?

You can read anything you want, even if it’s just reading aloud whatever you’re already reading. But I often find what I’m reading feels a little…um, inappropriate…to read out loud to a fetus. I know that’s illogical, but I feel how I feel! Here are a few book suggestions for reading to your baby in utero.

Oh, Baby, the Places You’ll Go! adapted by Tish Rabe, illustrated by Dr. Seuss

This adaptation of the classic book is the perfect way to introduce your baby to the wonderful world of Dr. Seuss. Tish Rabe uses much of the original material to tell unborn babies all they have to look forward to as they get to know the characters and worlds of Dr. Seuss.

Little You by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Julie Flett

It’s never too early to start telling your baby how loved they are. I’ll be honest: I haven’t always felt feelings of ooey gooey love for my baby. A lot of the time, I still don’t. But sometimes when you say things out loud, the feelings start to follow.

If you aren’t feeling the feels, this book will get you there. It opens with the stunning lines, “Little wish little thunder/Little star with little wings/You are life and breath adored.” Another reason this book should be on everyone’s shelves? It’s written by a Native American author, which is represented in the illustrations.

The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton

Sandra Boynton is an absolute legend when it comes to board books. You can’t go wrong with anything of hers. I chose this one specifically because of the soothing, rocking rhythm that just about puts me to sleep every time I read it.

The Global Babies Series by the Global Fund for Children

I want my children to grow up appreciating the beauty and strength of diversity. These books have gorgeous photographs, but the empowering messages are equally wonderful. The series includes Global Babies, Global Baby Boys, Global Baby Girls, and Global Baby Bedtimes.

My husband and I actually used a copy of Global Baby Girls to announce our baby’s sex. Since I am an expat living in Hong Kong and my daughter will be born here, it seemed especially fitting to start celebrating our own global baby.

Check out this list of newly released diverse books for kids for more ideas.

How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

This award-winning author and illustrator have made a masterpiece of a children’s book. How to Read a Book will remind you of everything that is sweet and sacred about the experience of reading. The cadences of the poetry are beautiful when read aloud.

So, there might not be any scientific evidence to support that reading to your unborn child will make them smarter or will make them love books. But I figure…it can’t hurt to try!