Babies cry. They cry when they’re hungry, tired or even over stimulated. It’s a baby’s primary means of communication for many months.
“When babies are born, they’re doing a lot more nonverbal communication, such as crying, making eye contact and recognizing faces,” said Dr. Emma Raizman, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics in Medina. “But, it doesn’t mean that they’re not taking language in. Soon, they’ll begin to discover their ability to vocalize and soon they will be cooing and babbling.”
Some babies begin to make some vowel sounds, like “ah-ah” or “ooh-ooh,” at about 2 months.
Your baby will “talk” to you with a variety of sounds, and also will smile at you and wait for your response, and respond to your smiles with his own. Your baby may even mimic your facial expressions.
By about 4 months of age, your baby will spend more time babbling and is learning to imitate sounds. Make no mistake, these are your baby’s early attempts at speaking and should be encouraged as much as possible.
By about 6 months of age, your baby will begin to test his verbal skills as he prepares for his big speaking debut. From babbling strings of consonants like “babababa,” he will soon begin to produce recognizable syllables, such as “ga,” “ba” and “da.”
After 9 months, your baby may say a word, like mama or dada. By seeing his parents’ excitement at hearing “dada” or “mama,” he soon will learn to connect a word with its meaning.
By the end of the first year, your baby will follow simple requests from you (“Wave bye-bye”), enjoy peek-a-boo, say “mama” and “dada,” and babble with inflections of typical speech. They also will begin to recognize names of common objects (bottle, binky, ball, etc.)
These actions all demonstrate his ability to communicate, understand and respond to language.
“As with all milestones, there’s a range of what’s normal for speech,” said Dr. Raizman. “But, if your baby isn’t making any sounds, isn’t cooing or babbling by 9 months, let your pediatrician know. When it comes to words, if he’s not saying mama or dada by 15 months, talk to your pediatrician.”
Dr. Raizman offers 8 ways parents can encourage early speech in their baby.
- Talk to your baby. He loves to hear your voice. Whether you’re walking around your house with him or just talking to yourself, it’s good for your baby to hear language, vowel and consonant sounds, and different inflections in your voice.
- Copy his coos and babbles. Imitate your baby’s “bah” and “ah-goo,” then follow up by saying some simple words that contain the same sound.
- Have “conversations” and wait for a pause in your baby’s babble to “answer.” The give-and-take of these early discussions will set the stage for those first real words and conversations in the months to come.
- Name familiar people, objects and activities to introduce simple words that apply to everyday life. Babies understand words long before they can say them, so use real words mixed in with baby talk.
- Slow your speech and emphasize single words when you talk to your baby. For example, say: “Do you want a toy? This is your toy,” as you show it to him. Then wait for a response.
- Make talking a whole-body experience by touching your baby’s toe when you say the word “toe.” Or, point out your own ear and say, “Mommy’s (or Daddy’s) ear.” Face your baby when you speak to let him see your facial expression and lip movements.
- Sing or rhyme to your baby to encourage language learning. By listening to the words, babies learn to recognize and repeat them. Throw in hand gestures and vary the style and tempo of the music to keep your baby’s attention.
- Read to your baby from large, colorful picture books, and encourage him to turn the pages. Give your baby a chance to “read” and “answer” your questions.
“During the first year, babies typically follow a pretty set schedule for language,” said Dr. Raizman. “It’s very important to encourage language in the first year because it will make a difference when they’re school age, but know that it won’t necessarily help them reach language milestones faster in the first year.”