A child’s brain best absorbs language during the first three years of life. That’s why it’s important for parents to start reading to their babies right away.

Reading is crucial to a child’s cognitive development. And, it’s essential to the bonding that happens between a parent and baby.

OB-GYNs and midwives are key to teaching mothers how reading sparks early brain development. That’s because they become trusted partners to mothers-to-be as they help them through their pregnancies. Our clinics now give a children’s book to expecting moms at their 32-week prenatal visit. That is around the time when they’re really getting ready for baby at home.

The book is titled “Baby Animals Black and White,” and is written by Phyllis Limbacher Tildes. A newborn’s retina can only see big contrasts between light and dark. Because the book features black and white images, it sends the strong visual signals to a baby’s brain. And, because it’s a board book, it will hold up when the baby starts to chew. Chewing helps babies strengthen their tongues, which is important for their speech development. The book also doesn’t have any words. A parent can simply tell a story about the pictures, regardless of the language she speaks.

Families also get developmentally appropriate children’s books at well-child visits. Our pediatricians and family medicine doctors give these books away as part of Reach Out and Read. From the time a child is six months to five years old, he or she will get a new book each time the family comes in.

A mom and her baby who are cared for in our clinics receive up to 11 books from HealthPartners by the time the child is five years old. All of the books are paired with practical advice for supporting vocabulary and brain growth. In essence, it’s tips and tools on being the child’s first teacher.

Research shows that the achievement gap begins when children are babies. Children who don’t have stories read to them every day learn about 3,000 words. Compare that to the 20,000-word vocabulary of children who are read to daily. That’s why HealthPartners has a Children’s Health Initiative. Our organization wants every child to have a healthy start and bright future.