When I was training as a postpartum doula, our instructor covered an array of topics. We talked about breastfeeding, infant care, postpartum mental health, babywearing, and more. We watched a video explaining the Purple Crying period. Another shared the birth and parenting story of a transgender parent. I learned a lot and was moved to tears more than once. One video, though, stood out to me as particularly practical and eye-opening. It was the Singing to the Baby video with Penny Simkin. I didn’t realize the importance of singing or reading to your baby while pregnant!
If you aren’t a doula, you may not know who Penny Simkin is. Inside the doula world, she is a bit of a rock star. If you watch the video, you’ll see that she did some work with families, asking them to sing to their baby while the baby was still in utero. They picked one song and sang it everyday until the baby was born. The outcome was amazing… the babies clearly recognize both the voice and the song. When they are distressed, singing the song soothes and quiets them.
I spent almost two decades as a librarian encouraging parents to read and sing to their young children in order to promote brain development and assist with language development. So I thought I was well versed in the benefits of stories and music on baby/ child development. But this adds another dimension. Singing and reading to your baby when pregnant isn’t just important for mental stimulation. It is an invaluable tool for creating an attachment between caregivers and their babies. Research shows us that babies who are well attached to their primary caregivers thrive physically and emotionally. As a parent of twins, I also know it is just plain old useful to have such a simple tool you can pull out when baby or babies are fussy.
Singing or Reading to a Baby In Utero Promotes Bonding
A baby will naturally recognize the gestational parent’s voice because they hear it everyday as they grow and develop in the womb. Simple repetition of a song or book as early as 18 weeks into your pregnancy will give you something specific and special to soothe your baby once they arrive. This is also a wonderful tool for parents who adopt, partners, siblings, and other treasured people. If a key person is separated from baby during pregnancy or the early days of life due to deployment, work travel or illness, you can create a recording of that person reading or singing. This is so effective that Nationwide Children’s Hospital program Sounds of Love uses recordings of parents’ voice in their NICU. Premature babies grow faster and are happier when they can hear their parents’ voices even when they aren’t physically present.
Now, when I meet with parents prenatally for doula consults, I always suggest they read or sing to their baby everyday while they are pregnant. It’s simple, free and has significant emotional benefits for parents and babies. And it will make your job as a parent a tad bit easier. Why not do it?
On to selecting the perfect song or book for reading or singing to your baby in utero. Here are a few ideas:
Read or Sing What You Love
Like the families in Penny Simkin’s video you can use standards like Twinkle, Twinkle or Happy Birthday. Nursery rhymes are also a great choice. They have rhythm and rhyme that appeals to babies and makes them easy to remember. If you need to brush up on the classics, check out the Mother Goose books by Clare Beaton. As a bonus, baby will love the pictures once they are home and following along with you. A poem is also a nice option. Personally, I love the idea of reciting “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou to your little girl in utero. If none of this suits your personality, feel free to break out Bob Dylan, Taylor Swift, the Beatles, Nirvana or whatever else you will enjoy singing or reading over and over. This should be enjoyable for you and baby!
Select something with cultural or family significance.
A song your grandpa sang to you when you were a child or the book you remember your mom reading to you over and over are perfect choices. Songs you sang in church, temple or at camp can bring back happy memories while you create new ones with your little one. If your native language isn’t English, pick something in your first language. And if it is part of your religious heritage, consider singing or reading in the language of your faith. Welcome Song for Baby: A Lullaby by Richard Van Camp is a beautiful choice for any family and the PJ Library version of the story incorporates Hebrew into the text. We Sang You Home, also by Richard Van Camp, is another lovely choice for any family. The book is also available in Cree for Indigenous Cree-speaking families.
Find something with a sweet or soothing message.
If the first two categories don’t immediately bring something to mind, there are many wonderful children’s board books with lovely messages and lyrical text. A few of my favorites:
- I Took the Moon for a Walk by Carolyn Curtis
- Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae
- Wherever You are My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman
- My Heart Fills with Happiness by Monique Gray Smith
- Baby Blessings by Deloris Jordan
Write your own.
Here’s the ultimate option for personalization: write your own song, poem or storybook. Talking is Teaching has even created a guide on Writing Your Own Lullaby if you’d like some help getting started.
If baby is already home, is it too late to start a tradition like this? Absolutely not! Start when you can. If your baby is still a newborn, the repetition while you hold, carry, feed or snuggle together will create soothing, loving associations. Older babies, toddlers and preschoolers absolutely still benefit from incorporating special music, stories and rhymes into the rhythm of your days. These kiddos will often have their own opinions about what books and songs they especially like. Reading and singing together is a beautiful way to bond and it is a great parenting tool to have in your toolbox!
One final tip: you may also want to check out baby and parent programs at public libraries when they are able to offer in-person story times again. These programs usually masterfully incorporate rhymes, stories and songs. In the meantime, there are some places on the Seacoast that are offering safe in-person classes. The Sing, Sign and Play or story time groups at Relief Parenting and similar parenting centers extend your baby’s love of stories and songs. They also connect you with other families and caring community practitioners who can accompany you on your parenting journey.