A child’s brain best absorbs language during the first three years of life. That’s why I encourage expecting moms to compile a library of books to read to their newborn babies and actually start reading with them the day they come home from the hospital.
The bonding that happens when you’re reading with your baby is priceless. And, it’s super important to baby brain development. In fact, reading with your newborn actually helps their brain grow!
At HealthPartners and Park Nicollet clinics, we give a children’s book to all of our patients who are moms-to-be. They get it at the last prenatal visit they have before giving birth, which is usually when they’re about 32 weeks along. The baby book is called “Baby Animals Black and White” and is written by Phyllis Limbacher Tildes. It doesn’t have any words, so Mom can simply tell a story about the pictures, regardless of the language she speaks.
There are lots of other titles out there that are great choices for baby’s first books, too. But when you go to pick out books to read to newborn babies, what exactly should you be looking for?
The best baby books have these four things that promote baby brain development:
Black and white pictures
At birth, the back layer of your baby’s eye that detects light isn’t fully developed. This is called the retina. A newborn’s retina can only see big contrasts between light and dark. That means books with light pastel illustrations are not a great choice for your baby’s first books.
Your baby’s sense of sight will gradually get stronger over the six to eight months after birth. What’s really developing is your child’s brain and its ability to process all of the visual information they are taking in. As your baby starts seeing, touching, smelling, hearing and tasting more, nerve cells in the brain multiply and connect. So it’s important to be intentional about stimulating your baby’s brain with sensory input. One way to do this is by reading books with sharply outlined black and white images. Research shows that these kinds of illustrations send the strongest visual signals to your baby’s brain. Also, try to keep the book within 8 to 12 inches from your baby’s face. That’s all the further a newborn can clearly see.
Soft books and board books
It’s developmentally appropriate for babies as young as three months to chew on books. Their attention spans are short. While bold illustrations can help, you shouldn’t expect a very young infant to concentrate on even the best baby books for longer than about 90 seconds. At least, not if your baby isn’t chewing on them.
When it comes to choosing books to read to newborn babies, picking something you wouldn’t be heartbroken to see get destroyed is important. Chewing helps babies strengthen their tongues, which is important for their speech development.
You, the adult, like the story
If you think a book is annoying, don’t read it to your baby. You have to be engaged for reading to effectively nurture your baby’s brain development. And that means the best baby books are the ones that encourage you to be interactive.
The words in the book are just a starting point. Make the story come alive by changing the tone of your voice or using sound effects and motions. Point out pictures that match your words and elaborate. Have conversations about the numbers, letters, colors, shapes, objects and characters that show up in the book. And, ask questions. All of this keeps the book exciting for your child and helps hold their attention.
Rhyming words or songs
By the time your baby turns one, they will have learned all the sounds needed to speak a language. Reinforce these sounds and how to use them by reading books with rhymes.
Rhyme showcases the common inflections we use while speaking. So, reading rhyming books will help prepare your baby’s ear, voice and brain for language, which is a key part of baby brain development.
You can point out which words rhyme and emphasize that they do. This will give your child a chance to hear and fully process different sounds. The repetitive sound of a rhyme can also help teach your child to predict what comes next, which can build their memory skills.
Reading books that rhyme to your newborn baby won’t necessarily mean they’ll be an early talker. However, when starting to talk, it’s more likely your child will be able to string together words.
By the time your child starts kindergarten, their brain will have grown to 90 percent of its adult size. Maximize its growth and your baby’s brain development by starting to read with them right away. Having that storytime will maximize the amount of snuggle time you have with them, too.