I just sat my almost 14-month-old daughter on her floor quilt so I could write this blog post. On her floor quilt, I placed a few books and a few toys. The toys haven’t been touched; she keeps studying each book. This is not an unusual occurrence. She gravitates towards books. I can’t help but think books are a favorite of hers because they are a favorite of ours. We’ve read to her since she was just a bean in my belly, just like we did with her brother, who was born still two years before she was born.

Some parents find it very easy to bond with baby during pregnancy and the first year, but others struggle to make that initial connection until the baby is born or is showing more of her personality. For many moms pregnant after a loss, bonding can be very challenging. They can be afraid to attach, afraid of another loss. But, having worked in the pregnancy after loss community, I knew that another loss wasn’t any less painful if you didn’t bond. Either way, loss is devastating. In fact, the guilt can be even more consuming if you didn’t bond. So, I pushed myself to bond. And a primary way I bonded was by reading to my belly.

I have an extensive collection of favorite children’s books that I’ve collected while working in after school programs. Several times a day, I’d plop in my rocking chair with one of those books and read it aloud to my belly. I’d pause and talk about my favorite parts. At bedtime, my husband and I would take turns reading to my belly. Bonding can be challenging for dads too! We got into that routine before she was ever born.

Whether you find bonding easy or challenging, here are ten specific ideas on how to use reading to bond with babe during pregnancy and the first year:

1. Buy baby her first book when you find out you’re pregnant.

Even though I had a large collection of children’s books, we decided to buy the baby her very own book shortly after we found out we were pregnant. I wrote a little note to her in the front of the book, and we read it to her frequently, always telling her it was her very first book. Plus, books are gender neutral, so it’s something you can buy early.

2. Make reading part of your daily routine, even while pregnant.

Dad and siblings too! Let babe get to know your voices, your love.

3. Read aloud whatever you’re reading.

Reading to my bump.

I read parts of Mayo Clinic’s Guide to Pregnancy to my belly, as well as other novels and non-fiction I was reading. Sometimes I’d even read blog posts aloud. Really, the only thing I wouldn’t read to her was the news.

4. Request books instead of cards and flowers at your baby shower and after birth.

Encourage guests to write messages to your baby in the front of the books. Incorporate those books into your daily reading to your belly, and read her the notes too!

5. Have a Build Baby’s Library shower.

This is an especially great option for a second/third/etc. child (as well as a rainbow baby!) when you already have all of the big items. Building your wish list will help with bonding and thinking about what books you want to share with your child as she grows. (You’ll want all of the That’s Not My… series.)

6. Carry a children’s book with you to read while waiting to see your OB or while waiting for ultrasounds.

I always found waiting alone in those rooms to be highly anxiety-producing. Having a book to read lightened the mood and helped me focus on babe in those moments.

7. Pack a couple of favorite books in your hospital bag to read to babe in the first days after birth.

Grandma bought this book at the hospital gift shop.

If you forget (like I did!), send someone to the gift shop to get a few new books that will be special to read in those first days.

8. From birth, read a book, or two or three or four, each night at bedtime.

Reading giraffe books in memory of big brother on his birthday.

Read even if your baby is already asleep.

9. Take babe to story time at the library.

Our library has the coolest dragon!

You’ll want a quick activity nearby to get you out of the house. Some libraries even have an early evening story time, so the whole family can go.

10. Keep a small basket of books in each room of the house.

This allows you to grab a book wherever you are and take a few minutes to read with your baby between feedings, naps, and playtime. Incorporate fold-out books with high contrast images into tummy time (Stitch is reading Under the Sea in this photograph). Get down on your belly too, and look at the books with babe.

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