Before Baby’s First Word: How Baby Communicates
Even though babies do not usually say their first words until they are close to 1 year of age, they begin to communicate with us much earlier.
How do babies communicate before they start to talk?
By 2 months of age, most babies will:
- Look at you and make eye contact when you talk to them
- Laugh and coo
- Show interest in people
- Have different cries for different reasons
By 4 months of age, most babies will:
- Babble to themselves and others
- Make a variety of sounds such as coos, gurgles, and cries
- Copy sounds
- Laugh and smile in response to your laughs and smiles
By 6 months, most babies will:
- Make sounds to express pleasure and displeasure
- Make sounds back to you when you talk to them
- Respond to their own name
- Play with sounds when alone and with others
- Try to interact with others
At 6-12 months of age, most babies will:
- Make sounds, babble often, and try singing with you
- Copy your actions such as clapping and banging toys
- Copy your sounds such as coughing, kissing, and clicking your tongue
- Communicate with you by pointing, reaching, and making sounds
- Have fun repeating the sounds they make
- Shout or make noises to gain attention
- Shake their head for “no” (around 9 months of age)
- Wave hello/good-bye (around 11 months of age)
How can you help your baby to communicate?
- Talk to your baby about what you are doing during the day even if it is something as simple as folding laundry, making lunch, or changing your baby’s diaper. Repetition and routine help babies attach meaning to what they see and do.
- Copy the sounds, actions, and facial expressions that your baby makes. This will help them learn that what they say and do are important.
- Give your baby time to copy your sounds and actions. This teaches them simple turn-taking skills.
- Play face-to-face. Get down to your baby’s level and look into their eyes. Look at what your child is looking at and talk about what they see and do.
- Read with your baby. Do not worry about reading books word-for-word. Instead, when your child is looking at or holding a book, talk about what they are doing and what they see on the pages.
- Sing with your baby. Singing helps with language development, memory and listening skills, imitation, and turn-taking. It is okay if you do not know the words to songs – you can make them up or change them to be meaningful to your baby.
When should you be concerned?
Does your baby:
- By 6 months, smile or show other warm, joyful expressions?
- By 9 months, share sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions with you?
- By 12 months, Babble and use gestures with an adult, such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving?
- By 16 months, say their first words?
- By 24 months, combine two-words into phrases (e.g., “more milk”, “hi mom”)?
Contact your local *Speech-Language Pathologist if:
- You answered “no” to any of these questions
- You have concerns
- Your child shows any loss of speech, babbling, or social skills at any age
- Your child has a history of frequent ear infections
- You have questions or concerns about your baby’s feeding or communication skills
- You would like more ideas for interaction with your child
(*A Speech Language Pathologist, or SLP, works with people from all walks of life. SLPs help with all areas of communication including speech, language, voice, and fluency (or stuttering). They can also help with feeding and swallowing difficulties in all age groups.)
Do you live in the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan area? In Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, phone 306-655-2434. In rural areas near Saskatoon, phone 306-655-4700.
This guest post is written by Bonnie Quiring Gallen, MSLP, S-LP (C) on behalf of Saskatoon Health Region Population Public Health. Bonnie is a Speech Language Pathologist, and mother to two children, ages 2 and 7 years old.