A new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends early literacy for newborns and urges parents to begin reading aloud to their infants to stimulate brain development as well as strengthen the bond between parent and child.
The activity, states the policy, improves language, social-emotional skills and literacy that can last the child's lifetime.
The academy recommends pediatricians counsel parents about appropriate shared reading activities and partner with other child advocates to influence national messaging that support and promote key early shared-reading experiences.
"Pediatric providers have a unique opportunity to encourage parents to engage in this important and enjoyable activity with their children beginning in infancy. Research has revealed that parents listen and children learn as a result of literacy promotion by pediatricians, which provides a practical and evidence-based opportunity to support early brain development in primary care practice," states the policy.
The academy represents 62,000 pediatricians nationwide.
"It should be there each time we touch bases with children," said Dr. Pamela High, who wrote the new policy. It recommends doctors tell parents they should be "reading together as a daily fun family activity" from infancy.
The pediatricians' group believes reading can also play a role in the academic disparities between wealthier and low-income children as well as between racial groups.
"If we can get that first 1,000 days of life right," said Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, "we're really going to save a lot of trouble later on and have to do far less remediation."
The AAP and the publisher Scholastic are planning to donate 500,000 books to Reach Out and Read, a nonprofit that supports literacy for low-income families.
"Reading to children and with children is a very joyous event and a way of fostering a relationship, as well as [helping] language development," says High. "And we don't have to wait until we're getting them ready for school. We can make it part of regular routine."