Wednesday: Why you should read to your baby

It's never too early. In fact, fetuses can recognize their mother's voice from the womb —so why not make reading aloud a habit while you're still pregnant?

And once your baby arrives, reading to your newborn is a must, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. He won't understand your words, but hearing your voice stimulates an interest in sounds and helps him develop listening skills.

Plus, no matter what your baby's age, reading together is a great opportunity for cuddling and bonding. By developing a regular reading routine from the start, books will become a natural part of your child's day—one that he'll associate with fun.

Why is reading to my baby good for her?
Reading helps build your child's vocabulary, stimulates her imagination, and improves her communication skills. In fact, the more you speak to your child from the get-go, the better it is for her growth and development.

A running commentary on the state of the neighborhood during your walk and naming your child's body parts as you bathe her are good ways to chat. Reading is one more fun way to add variety to your verbal interactions.

Reading to your baby introduces her to the concepts of stories, numbers, letters, colors, and shapes, and gives her information about the world around her. It also builds memory and vocabulary skills. By the time she's one year old, your baby has already learned all the sounds she needs to speak her native language. The more words she hears, the better she'll be able to talk.

What should I read to my infant?
For the first few months, your infant picks up on the rhythm of language—rather than the content—as he hears you speak. Repetition is good because it helps your baby build language skills. And to keep it interesting, vary the pitch of your voice or use different voices for different characters. But really, when it comes to reading materials, anything goes&dash , magazines, or even that novel you've been trying to finish. Your baby may also be fascinated by pictures with bright colors and sharp contrast, so get plenty of board books and picture books.

The most important thing is that your baby is making a connection between the things he loves the most—your closeness and your voice—and books. This shows him that reading is enjoyable and important.
You don't have to get all the way through a book, either. Just taking a few minutes here and there to read aloud to your child can make a difference.

What types of books are best for an older baby?
Let your child be the judge. She'll probably end up having several that will become favorites, and she'll light up with excitement every time you get them out.

Books with colorful drawings and catchy phrases are sure to please. Some children prefer books with photographs, while others like books with built-in activities—images hidden under flaps or behind sliding partitions, for example. Your baby may also enjoy the singsong rhythm and playful wording of nursery rhymes. They're easy to remember, so you can chant them during daily routines ("Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub").

Once you've explored a favorite type of book, try another. Your baby's sure to enjoy something completely different every once in a while. Don't choose anything too delicate, though. Babies love to grab and mouth everything they can reach, so board books or those with heavy-duty pages can endure the most wear and tear.