Amy Moore founder of @speak_life_slt shares why it is important to communicate with your bump.
Congratulations, you are growing a human! Whether it’s your first or fifth baby, there is much to think about now. Looking after yourself in pregnancy, preparing for labour and all the practicalities to welcome your newborn into your family. You may be thinking, ‘why do I need advice from a Speech and Language Therapist when my baby is not born, let alone talking!?’ Sit with me for a few moments, and I will explain how this moment is the best time to think about your baby’s communication development.
As a Mum of two boys and a SLT for ten years, it is always a joy to talk to expectant parents. Your lifelong journey of communication between you and your baby is just beginning. I have been where you are; I know how exciting and nerve-racking the journey is, and I see daily how important a child’s speech, language and communication development is to their wellbeing and future success. Whether you know it or not, you are your child’s first teacher, and I want you to be empowered in this wonderful and privileged role.
Firstly, communication is not just about talking (although that will become a big part of it in time). So before your baby’s hearing is developed, your body communicates to your child for you; your heartbeat, your hormones, the food you put in your body; some would even say your thoughts’ talk’ to your growing baby. So look after yourself, and treat your body as the precious gift it is. Be kind to yourself, do not take too much on, and ask for help if you need it. By looking after your body, you are communicating love to your child, which will be foundational to your own child’s communication skills.
Secondly, let me ‘wow’ you with how quickly a typically developing child’s hearing develops in pregnancy. By 18 weeks of pregnancy babies begin to hear sounds, like your tummy gurgling and the air moving in and out of your lungs. As weeks pass and the inner ear develops, it becomes more sensitive to sounds, and by six months of pregnancy (around 27 weeks), your baby can hear your voice. Think about that. It doesn’t sound like it does in the outside world because the amnionic fluid is muffled (a bit like hearing underwater in the swimming pool), but your voice will become the most powerful sound your baby hears. Your muffled voice will become ‘home’ to your baby, and they will begin to respond to it, displayed in increased heart rate and activity. Basically, they get excited by it. They begin to think, ‘I like this sound; this sound is something worth listening to!’
By the third trimester, around 30 weeks gestation, active listening occurs. Your baby can choose what sounds to focus their attention on. Research has shown that babies love to focus on and respond to their mother’s voice. Isn’t that incredible? Before you have even held your baby, your baby loves listening to the sound of your voice. Also, what is really exciting at this stage in pregnancy is that other voices outside the womb are also heard. Research has shown that if Dad (or other significant adults) regularly sing to the baby while the baby is still in the womb when born the baby will show that they recognise the song and seek that voice. Amazing. At this age, the baby responds to other sounds in the outside world, especially ones they become familiar with. This could be your favourite song, a TV theme tune or a book you often read to an older sibling. We know that babies not only attend to sounds at this age, but they can begin to understand them well enough to retain memories of them after birth. This is why certain sounds soothe them, like the sound of familiar voices, and some sounds can excite them, like the sound of a sibling laughing.
During pregnancy, just carrying out your day-to-day life will naturally develop the foundations for your child’s future speech, language and communication skills. But there are some lovely things to do to help you and other important people in your unborn baby’s life connect and communicate with your yet-to-be-born baby:
Listen to your favourite song every evening as you wind down the day. Press play and take a moment to focus on your breathing and your baby. Imagine your baby listening and enjoying this music with you. You may include this music in your labour playlist if you have one.
You can talk to your baby about your day, who you have seen and what you have done while you massage your bump with nourishing oil.
Encourage other important people in your baby’s life to talk or read a story to your bump. If this feels funny you could ask them to record their voice reading a story and play that as you relax with your feet up.
You can sing to your bump; your baby does not mind if you sound like Beyonce or not – as I have said, they already love the sound of your voice.
Look after yourself in this precious and short stage of your babies development. Speak words of encouragement to yourself, and if you are struggling with anything to do with your pregnancy, speak to a friend or your midwife
Thank you for taking the time with me to discover and think about why it’s great to talk, sing and read to your ‘bump baby’ – you are laying essential foundations for your child’s speech, language and communication skills.
This is just the very beginning of your child’s communication development, and that’s why I will be back with Part. 2 ‘Communicating with your newborn,’ to again hopefully empower and inspire you to support your young baby in this incredible stage of life.
For more information, inspiration and encouragement relating to your child’s communication development, please follow me, Amy at @speak_life_slt
Written by Amy Moore B. Med Sci Hons. Specialist Speech and Language Therapist. Speak Life SLT