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Communication and Your 8- to 12-Month-Old

In these months, your baby might say "mama" or "dada" for the first time, and may communicate using body language, like waving bye-bye and shaking their head.

Your baby is paying even more attention to your words and gestures and will try very hard to copy you — so be careful what you say!

How Do Babies Communicate?

Babies this age test their verbal skills as they prepare for their big speaking debut. From babbling strings of consonants like "babababa," they will begin to produce recognizable syllables, such as "ma," "ba," and "da." By seeing their parents' excitement at hearing "dada" or "mama," babies soon learn to connect a word with its meaning.

Even before babies say their first word, they are learning to communicate through gestures like lifting up their arms so you can pick them up and waving goodbye. They can make facial expressions that look happy, sad, angry, and surprised.

You'll know your baby understands what you say when you ask "Where's Daddy?" and your little one looks his way. You might point and say, "Go find the ball!" and your baby may crawl right to it. Babies look when you call their names and pause briefly or stop what they're doing when you give a firm "NO!"

What Should I Do?

  • Interact often. Continue talking, singing, and reading to your baby. Repeat sounds and say simple words. Ask your baby to point to familiar objects and ask, "Where's the cup?" Or point to a ball and ask, "What's that?" Pause before you provide the answer. Soon your baby will be pointing and saying "bah."
  • Label everything. Labeling objects reinforces the message that everything has its own name. From milk in the morning to a teddy bear at night, naming familiar objects will help your little one learn what they're called. Make learning a whole-body experience: Touch 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 each other when you speak to let your baby see your facial expression and lip movements.
  • Sing and play rhyming games. This encourages language learning. Throw in hand gestures and vary the style and tempo of the music to keep your baby's attention. Babies like rhymes, which show how playful language can be.
  • Read from large, colorful picture books, and encourage your baby to turn the pages. Ask your baby to "read" and "answer" your questions.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

If you have concerns about your baby's language skills or hearing, talk to your doctor. By 12 months, most babies:

  • understand "no" (pause briefly or stop when you say it)
  • make different sounds like “mamamama” or “babababa”
  • wave bye-bye
  • call caregivers mama and dada (or other special name)

Keep in mind that there's a wide range of what's considered normal when it comes to language development, so some babies gain skills earlier or later than others.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date Reviewed: May 17, 2022

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