Is there any point reading a book to a newborn baby?

Many people ask if there any point reading a book to a baby that can’t speak... or do much else for that matter?  Could they possibly learn from it?  The answer is a resounding yes!

Can my baby even see the book?

When a baby is in the womb, their eyes can tell the difference between light and dark.  At birth, their eyes will have to learn to focus and to work together. So, a newborn baby can see, but the images will still be a bit fuzzy.  Their eyesight is still developing.

Babies can focus the best on distances of about 6-8 inches – which, amazingly, is about the same distance from breast to baby when they are being fed.  So, when a baby is fed, they are learning to focus on the face of their parent – or whoever else happens to be feeding them at the time.  By spending time gazing at your baby, you are helping them to get to know your face….and they are getting to know yours too, and also in the process their eyesight is strengthening and developing. 

Your baby can focus best at this distance from your face.

Don’t ever feel you are wasting time just sitting staring into the eyes of your baby. By talking to them, making warm and loving facial expressions, and cuddling them close, you are laying the foundations for their security and their whole learning experience

So, when you read to your baby, try to make sure you hold the book about 6-8 inches from their face so that they have the best chance of focussing on the page.

When should I start reading to my baby?

Research has shown that reading to your baby whilst they are still in the womb is beneficial as it helps the baby to relax – the foetal heart beat will often drop whilst they are read to - it will help your baby learn to recognise your voice, or the voice of another loving carer – and it will build the bond between you both. When you start is up to you, but it is never too early. Personally, I took a book to hospital and read to my babies on their first day in the world. It is up to you.[i]

Reading to your baby in the womb.

What sort of books are best?

At birth, a baby cannot see the difference in colours.  The easiest colours for them to see are black and white – it is the contrast between the two colours that makes it easier for their eyes to focus.  So, black and white books which are simple and clear are the best types of books to show your baby.  There are many different ones on the market now to buy – or you can make your own. You don’t need to be a gifted artist to make a book which will be suitable for your new baby.  The simpler and bolder the images are the better – and just keep the colours black and white for now.  By 5 months of age your baby will see the full spectrum of colours.

Black and white books are great in the early days.

What are the benefits of reading to my baby?

One of the big benefits of reading a book to your baby, is that you need to snuggle in to do this!  Your baby will love the close contact. ‘Read’ each page slowly and use your finger to trace around the different shapes or images in the book.  You could even take your baby’s hand, if they will cooperate, and trace the shapes with their finger.  Talk to your baby about what they are seeing – they will love to hear your voice and you will be helping them to learn about the world around them. You don’t need words to read at this point – just make up your own simple descriptions of what you can see on the page. 

Snuggling in is one of the benefits of reading with your baby.

Reading to them will also be helping to develop:

  • Language skills
  • Communication
  • Listening skills
  • Memory
  • Observation
  • Love of reading and books
  • Concentration

Incidentally, all of the above are life skills which will help prepare your child for learning.

How long should I read to my baby?

Your baby will not be able to concentrate for long at this stage.  It will be hard work for them to really focus.  So, take your cue for them and when they turn away, or get fidgety, take the hint that they have had enough!  Just a few seconds may be all they can manage in the first few weeks.  Don’t worry – their concentration span will gradually develop over time.

By ‘reading’ to your young baby you will be giving them a fun, learning experience. They will be learning about what a book is, what a page is, that the images on the page have meaning….and that books are fun! That’s a pretty good start!  By the time they get to school, they will be fully prepared for learning to read and should find the learning process much easier…



[i] TEDxRainier,2010, The linguistic genius of babies [online video]Available at: [Accessed 16 October 2018]