Mother and Baby

Baby speech milestones

Baby speech

Every parent can’t wait to hear what their baby’s first word will be (and secretly hope it will be ‘mama’). 

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By the time your baby is about to utter their first ever proper word, you've probably heard plenty of babbling and cooing coming from them which is all preparing them for that huge milestone - their very first word.

And although your baby’s pretty tiny right now, that doesn’t mean he’s not already trying to communicate with you. It’s just a case of him getting the hang of how everything works – and while it might seem like a bit of a one-sided conversation at times, you can definitely help him along.

When do babies start talking? 

Here is everything you need to know about the different stages of baby talk, what to expect, and what to do when you see the signs of speech delay. 

In the first month or two, you will notice them making little sounds.

First, it will be crying, then the 'oohing' and 'ahhing', and finally, the babbling. 

Soon, these sounds will turn into real words, where mama and dad might slip out when you're least expecting it around the six-month milestone. 

Once they've said one or two, they will begin to pick up more words from you and everyone else around you.

Signs they're ready to talk

mum talking to baby

From the moment your newborn lets out his first cry, he’s talking to you – and gauging what his cries mean is just a case of getting to know him.

He’ll also use eye contact and gurgling as part of his language development. As the weeks go on, you’ll notice your baby becomes more vocal, with cries and gurgles giving way to a more bird-like cooing sound.

‘This is a sign the muscles of his tongue and mouth are getting stronger, and he’s beginning to understand the link between making sounds and getting a reaction,’ says Libby Hill, a speech and language therapist.

The months are passing by and you're beginning to wonder when your precious little one is going to start blabbering away, but also, how you can get them to talk too. 

All babies are born with the ability to recognise the 150 different sounds that make up every language in the world. Your baby also has impressive memory skills, meaning he can say a word back to you that you might have said weeks earlier.

ITV show, Secret Life of Babies uses the example of twins Ella and Finn, whose parents are both profoundly deaf. This meant that from birth, their parents were using sign language to communicate, and the twins were able to start signing what they wanted from the age of six months, even though they couldn’t actually say it.

Interestingly, the twins’ ability to communicate in sign language has had no impact on their ability to pick up spoken words.

‘They have started going to nursery and are hearing sound and spoken language a lot more so now they use spoken and sign language at the same time,’ says their mum, Emma.

‘If they hear someone speaking, they respond using their spoken language,' adds their father, Toby. ‘If they see someone signing, they will respond in sign so they're using a mixture of both.’

The documentary also reveals that your baby laughs 300 times a day, and when he’s upset he won’t produce actual tears until he’s three months old. 

What to expect from 0-6 months: 

Crying is your baby's first kind of communication they can do. They will begin to recognise words and the sounds of your voice which will result in them 'babbling' which could be 'mama' or 'dada'. 

If you're in the early stage of them just beginning to vocalise, the NHS advises these techniques on how to get them to talk at this stage:

  • Talk in a sing-song voice
  • Hold your baby close and look at them 
  • Chat about what you are doing
  • Sing
  • Repeat the sounds your baby makes back to them

What to expect from 6-12 months:

At this point, your baby is experimenting with their sounds and noises. To ensure their babbling continues, it's recommended to talk and read to them. 

From 6 to 12 months, your little one will begin to pick up on your words and expressions. To keep this going, the NHS also advises to do the following:

  • Name and point out things you can both see, for example: "Look, a cat".
  • Start looking at books with your baby. You don't have to read the words on the page, just talk about what you can see.
  • Only offer a dummy when it's time for sleep. It's hard to learn to talk with a dummy in your mouth. 
  • Play "peek-a-boo" and "round and round the garden".

How to help your baby’s language develop

Mother and son reading togetherWhether it’s telling him about your catch-up with friends, explaining the whole plot of The Great Gatsby or simply describing how you’re changing his babygro, speak to your little one constantly.

‘Engaging with your baby from birth has an invaluable impact on his speech development,’ says Libby. ‘Babies love to listen to your voice, so talk, sing and coo, making eye contact as you go.’

Your baby can’t focus properly until around one or two months, so make sure to hold him close as you chat.

What if my baby's not speaking? 

From baby's first steps to first words, we're all guilty of comparing our baby to others. But how do we get out of this unhealthy habit? 

Believe it or not, but you're the expert when it comes to judging your youngster's speech patterns, and you'll know if there's something wrong. 

If your baby isn't attempting to make any sounds, eye contact, or babbling between 6 and 9 months, it's advised to bring it up with a doctor. It could be that they have a speech delay or a hearing problem. 

‘Of course we shouldn’t worry or compare what other people’s babies and children are doing – although every parent does it!’ says parenting psychologist Dr Amanda Gummer, author of book Play: Fun Ways To Help Your Child Develop In The First Five Years (Vermilion). 

‘Parents worry hugely about when their children reach milestones, especially compared to their little friends. But one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given is to write down a reminder in your diary to worry about it in, say, three months. So if your little one’s speech seems slow compared to your friend’s baby, write it down and then don’t think about it. When the three months is up, revaluate things.

‘Children develop at vastly different rates and you’ll be amazed how much things change. If there is still a delay, see your GP. This way, you’re dealing with potential problems without stressing about them every day.’ 

“Don’t second-guess what they want – instead, make them ‘ask’ for it”

As for speech, Dr Gummer recommends the following to help your little one along: ‘Don’t second-guess what they want – instead, make them ‘ask’ for it. For example, rather than giving them a beaker of water when you know they’re about to become thirsty, point to it and say, “Do you want your water?” Over time they’ll learn to ask for things, rather than never having to because it’s always available. 

‘The same goes for crawling and walking. Put toys slightly out their reach. Not so much they get upset, but just as gentle encouragement.’ 

Dr Gummer says it’s also worth remembering that while you may look at other babies and worry that they’re talking, walking or sleeping better than yours, other parents will be looking at your child and thinking the same.

Stuttering 

If you've noticed that your child is stuttering, there is no need to worry,  as this is completely normal while their speaking is quickly developing.

However, keep an eye on it. If it continues until they reach 4-years-old, or if you can see them tensing their jaw, talk to their doctor about it. 

The surprising first word that 8% of babies say

We know we’re living in a tech-savvy world and that even small children love their screen time, but we didn’t realise quite how obsessed with gadgets and gizmos babies are. 

It’s been revealed that 8% of babies says ‘tablet’ as their first word, hinting at just how many babies have regular access to iPads and the like.

In a survey on the impact of tablets to parenting conducted by Twickenham-based company Tech21, one than one in eight parents admitted that their little one’s first word was ‘tablet’.

Of the 3,612 polled parents, 12% revealed that they let their toddlers, aged two and under, play with their tablet. Two in five said their allowed their children to use tablets for at least an hour a day and 7% admitted that their kids spend up to four hours a day on a tablet.

But it’s not all happy playing – 81% of the polled parents said that their child had previously broken their device by dropping or throwing it.

What was your baby's first word? Join our group of supportive mums over on our #mumtribe Facebook group and let us know. 

 

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  • Author: Lorna White Lorna White
  • Job Title: Digital Writer

Lorna is the digital executive and regular contributor for Mother&Baby. After running the Yours magazine website which specialises in content about caring for kids and grandchildren, she has now brought her expertise to the UK's #1 leading pregnancy and parenting magazine. Lorna specialises on a range of topics from potty training and nutrition, to everything and anything that will keep your tot occupied!

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