According to the Center for Early Literacy Learning in a review of studies they posted in 2012 the earlier and longer you read to a child, the higher the chance of "promoting the children's expressive and receptive language." As I stated before, we don't know what sticks but by looking at studies it's apparent that something is sticking. It is in our child's, and our, best interest to read to them as soon as possible on a nightly basis (or as often as possible.)
My son is only 6 months old but my wife and I have been reading to him nightly pretty much since he came home from the hospital. We know that he has absolutely no idea what we're saying or what story is taking place on the pages in front of him, but what he does know is that there are a bunch of neat looking pictures in front of his face and he can listen to the soothing sound of mom or dad's voice while checking them out all while cuddled up nicely in bed before going to sleep. We have developed this into a routine. Every night Jack gets a bath and then after putting on his pajamas, the family lies in bed and reads a book. Typically it's both of us but if one of us can't for whatever reason we make sure that the other can. This schedule has become our go to nightly routine and Jack knows that shortly after we finish reading the book it will be milk time and then bed time. Babies thrive on routine and by sticking to this we ensure a more pleasant bedtime experience.
The reading isn't entirely for a routine purposes only. As I mentioned earlier, studies have shown that children who are read to from an early age perform better on tests with their increased vocabulary and speech skills and perform better in school. Even after just a few months after birth, Jack was able to reach out and touch the pages, point to pictures, and make sounds to participate in reading. As my wife and I read to Jack, he is picking up on language skills that we are imparting to him through our reading even though we don't actively know it at the time. These words are going to help him one day as he begins to vocalize his first words and the continuation of our routine will ensure better success rates with putting that first sentence together and reading a book on his own. The roots we plant early with reading will ensure his language skills grow big and healthy and by tending to this garden early, we can ensure we enrich it with the right nutrients Jack needs as he develops his language skills.
There are tons of books out there that are great for reading to young babies. Board books, shortened versions of larger books printed on thick cardboard pages, are excellent first books for a baby. Some of Jack's favorites include The Very Hungry Caterpillar or The Going-To-Bed Book. They are small enough for Jack to help hold but sturdy enough that he can't rip out the pages. "Indestructible" books are similar, but thinner and allow the baby to basically throw everything they have at it - it won't rip or tear. These are unique stories most of the time (not shortened versions of bigger name stories) but they are good all the same. Some examples my family recently purchased include Jungle Rumble, Hickory Dickory Dock, and Mary Had a Little Lamb. With both books you can both read to your child at night and let them play with the books on their own to enjoy the images on the pages when it's not reading time.
You don't have to only read books safe for babies though. There are really good picture books out there that have vibrant colors that young babies love to look at. You can also inject some of your favorite things into reading time as well. For example, I am hoping that my son one day plays on a little league baseball team, so I'm working to
Jack is still very young, but with the routine we have set up as a family it is my hope that he develops a strong set of language skills based on the work my wife and I are doing as well as develops a strong love for reading. A child's mind is a wonderful place of imagination and what better compliment than an imaginary world of dragons and knights or a space story with aliens and astronauts. All of this can be found in a book but only if the child knows that it's possible. Read to your kids early and often and they will continue to read on their own when they are able. Who knows, they may also look back on those nights of reading as a fond memory from their childhood and thank you for it one day.