Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
 
Tips & Tools
Text Size

Question

When can my unborn baby hear me? I'd love to be able to read and sing to them.

Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP

Answer

​​​​It's great that you want to introduce your baby to reading and music! Both are important for healthy brain development.

At around 18 weeks of pregnancy, your unborn baby will start being able to hear sounds in your body like your heartbeat. At 27 to 29 weeks (6 to 7 months), they can hear some sounds outside your body too, like your voice. By the time they are full term,  they will be able to hear at about the same level as an adult. In other words, this is a great time to start reading and singing to them.

Comforting sounds

The ability to hear inside the womb helps your baby start recognizing certain sounds they hear over and over. Once they're born, familiar music and books—not to mention just the sound of your voice—can actually bring them comfort.

Just keep in mind that you can't teach your baby anything until after they're born. The most you can do is familiarize them with certain songs or books. So, if reading out loud or singing to your belly feels like yet another chore, don't feel guilty about waiting until you're holding them in your arms. What's important—for both of you—is that you stay relaxed and happy.

It's also important to note that anywhere from 1 to 6 babies out of 1,000 have childhood hearing loss. Newborn hearing screening is recommended for all newborns so they can get early intervention or treatment by the time they're 6 months old.

Reading benefits

Reading to your baby has benefits that will carry over into the rest of their life. The earlier you begin, the more you can help boost their language skills. As they grow, they'll also start recognizing books, the stories they tell, and the pictures they contain.

Reading to your baby gives you special time to bond with her every day. Bedtime is a great time to establish a routine of reading books, no matter what your child's age. Don't be afraid to use silly voices and goofy faces, especially as your baby gets older—this makes the experience memorable for you both.

By reading to your baby, you'll also be helping them learn a healthy habit at a young age. This means that it's more likely they will develop a lifelong love for reading and learning.

Reading-related milestones

You already know your baby will reach motor milestones like rolling over, sitting by themselves, and walking. But did you know that when you start reading to them early, they will also reach early literacy milestones? Here are some of the reading-related behaviors you can look for:

  • Around 3 months, they'll start to react to the expressions on your face and the sound of your voice, especially when you read. They may even be able to start understanding what you're reading a bit. They'll also start showing interest in the books, trying to touch them and put them in their mouth.

  • Around 6 to 12 months, she'll start grabbing the pages and putting books in her mouth. Don't worry, this actually shows that she's interested in them. But unless you want to be taping fragile book pages back together, be sure you stick with board books at this age.

  • Around 12 to 18 months, they'll be able to hold their board books while they're sitting and sort of turn the pages themselves. Reading gets interactive at this age. They may carry their books around with them and give them to you to read. They'll be able to point to pictures in the book when you ask questions.

  • Around 18 to 24 months, they'll be able to turn each page of their board books by themselves. They'll also be able to help you read their favorite stories. You may even overhear them reading to younger siblings or toys.

Remember

Reading and singing to your baby, even before they're born, will help build bonds, promote development, and serve as a source of joy for years to come.

More information

Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP

Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP serves as the medical editor of HealthyChildren.org and provides oversight and direction for the site in conjunction with the staff editor. Dr. Shu is a practicing pediatrician at Children's Medical Group in Atlanta, Georgia, and she is also a mom. She earned her medical degree at the Medical College of Virginia in ​Richmond and specialized in pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. Her experience includes working in private practice, as well as working in an academic medical center. She served as director of the normal newborn nursery at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire. Dr. Shu is also co-author of Food Fights and Heading Home with Your Newborn published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Last Updated
4/28/2021
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
Follow Us