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Baby's First Words
Baby's First Words
It's hard to believe, but your baby is preparing to talk! From the moment he was born, your baby started communicating his basic needs to you. At birth, your baby's first cry meant, "Hey, I'm cold!" You responded to his needs and warmed him. That was Baby's first form of communication. As he continues to grow, he will start to make sounds, understand and use words and eventually participate in complex conversations. And you won't have to wait too much longer for all of this to happen!
Birth to 3 Months
During the first few weeks of Baby's life, the two of you are getting to know each other. When your baby cries, she changes her vocal volume and pitch to communicate her needs. You learn to recognize that your baby is hungry, uncomfortable, wet, tired or content by interpreting the difference between her cries.
Your newborn baby hears sounds and startles or awakens to noise. By day three, she may be able to recognize her mother's voice and may even stop crying when she hears it. On the ninth day of life, she may start to track sounds with her eyes. She may turn her head toward her mother's voice and stop an activity if she hears an unfamiliar sound.
From birth to about 3 months, your baby may be heard repeating vowel-like sounds. This is known as "cooing" and is the beginning of her "vocal play." Vocal play eventually turns into the use of speech sounds. Research indicates that a baby is born with the ability to learn and use any language. Of course, your baby will only understand and use the language(s) that she hears the most.
By 3 months, your baby may start to smile. After such a positive connection, you will interact with your baby more by using words and facial expressions to encourage another smile. She may respond to your interactions by smiling and making sounds. You should follow your instincts and repeat these sounds to begin the process of language modeling.
"As your baby begins to coo, imitate him," recommends Sharon Frank, M.A., CCC-SLP, a speech-language pathologist in private practice and mother of 4-year-old Joey. "This will tell your baby that you're listening to him, and it will also encourage him to make the sounds."
Also at this age, a variety of vocal intonation patterns are used, and your baby learns to interpret the inflection and tone of your voice. She is recognizing the differences between your words, for example, when you ask a question or make a statement.
What can you do to encourage speech skills? "In this stage, babies tune in to the parent's touch, facial expressions and vocalizations more than the parent's words," says Frank. "Focus on exaggerating your facial expressions and changing vocal pitch when talking with your baby."
4 to 6 months
At around 4 months, your baby will start to respond to "no." He is now able to look around for the source of new sounds and will attend to music. Between 4 and 6 months, babbling begins. Babbling is when your baby uses more speech-like consonant and vowel sounds including "p," "b" and "m." Your baby can babble when he is alone or when he is playing with you.
"Imitate any babbling or words your baby is saying," says Frank. "As your baby points to things, name the objects. Start to point to things for and with him and label them ('bed, dog, Daddy'). Additionally, try to speak in one- to three-word phrases (i.e. 'Mommy go bye-bye,' 'more milk')."
Jennifer Cronin, a kindergarten teacher and the mother of 6-month-old Lily and 2-year-old Andrew, practices language modeling. "Every time Lily babbles to me, I say it back to her," she says. "I talk in a lot of high-pitched tones because she delights in it. I think she's having a conversation with me. It's way too cute!"
Cronin adds that she enjoys watching her son interact with her daughter. "Andrew imitates Lily's babbling," she says. "I think it is wonderful that they talk together. They are learning how to have a conversation and are responding to each other. This is a skill that will be important for their entire lives, especially when they interact with other children, for example, in daycare, preschool, kindergarten and beyond!"
Equally important is gesture development, because it leads to good language development. A baby begins communicating his wants and needs by gesturing (reaching out, pointing, etc.) around 6 months of age. Research indicates that babies can learn sign language to communicate with their parents before they even speak a single word!
"Help him start to realize cause-effect relationships (shaking a rattle) and object permanence (playing Peek-a-boo)," advises Frank. "These early cognitive skills are important for speech and language development."
7 to 12 months
During months 7 to 12, your baby will start to enjoy Peek-a-boo and Pat-a-cake games. He starts to recognize his name and common words (i.e. "cup," "diaper"). His understanding of directions is emerging, and he begins to respond to requests such as, "Want more?" Also, his babbling has developed to include long and short groups of sounds such as, "upup, gagagaga." These babbles will form into what we know as words. Although the words may not be clear, if your baby consistently uses the same sounds to indicate an object or desire, then it can be considered a "true word." For example, if your baby always says "mo" to indicate that he wants "more," acknowledge this as a true word.
By 12 months, most babies have formed their babbles into one or two words like "dada, bye-bye," or even "mama!" It's hard to believe that in 12 short months, a baby starts to develop the ability to communicate with the world. From his first startle response to speaking his first words, speech and language skills develop rapidly. It's not surprising that research on brain development shows rapid growth occurring from birth to 3 years of age.
Continue to foster great speech skills by talking to your baby often. "Use the most of your immediate and surrounding environment to enhance your baby's speech, by going for walks and pointing out the different things you see ('dog, house, car, birds flying, mailman')," says Frank. "Do the same with things inside the house, at the grocery store, at the park, etc."
During this time period, your baby is ready and willing to learn language, and you're his best source to stimulate these skills. By providing a rich, language-learning environment, you're providing your baby with skills that will last a lifetime!
Developmental milestones are used as a guide to know what children typically do at certain ages. Every child is different, however, and may meet these milestones earlier or later than indicated. However, for this age group, you should be concerned if:
Your baby does not startle or respond to sounds.
By 3 months, your baby does not turn toward the source of sound or your voice.
By 8 months, your baby does not babble, imitate speech sounds or use his voice to gain your attention.
By 8 to 12 months, your baby does not respond when people talk to him or show interest in attempting to communicate.
If you have any concerns about your baby's hearing or speech/language, discuss them with your pediatrician. Early identification of hearing, speech or language problems is critical. Identifying potential problems early not only can assist with speech and language development, but also can prevent difficulties in the future with behavior, social interactions and academics.
By Mindy Hudon, M.S., CCC-SLP. A Special Pick From
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