Mother and Baby

Baby sign language: Simple signs to learn today


As your baby begins to try and talk, you'll probably find that the two of you regularly use gesters and hand signals to help the two of you communicate easier. So it's understandable why some parents choose to teach their tots signs, inspired by British Sign Language (BSL) or American Sign Language, so they're learning a valuable skill, while improving their early communication skills. 

Signing is a great way to help your baby communicate with you before she’s able to talk (and a brilliant tool for reducing your tot’s tantrums), baby signing has multiple benefits. To help you get started with some everyday words, here are 10 simple signs to learn so that you can teach your baby sign language with confidence. 

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1. More

We all like seconds at dinnertime – even your baby. Place your finger tips together and lightly tap your right and left finger tips together twice. 

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2. Milk

This simple action will help your little one let you know when she wants some milk – without all the wailing. With one hand, pretend you're squeezing something in your fist with two pumps. 
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3. All gone

Use this sign to let your baby know that her food is all gone. Simply spread both hands apart and create a U-shaped flick outwards with both hands flat. 
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4. Again

You’re obviously a brilliant storyteller if your baby uses this sign once you’ve finished that favourite fairytale. Use two fingers on either one or both hands and shake a few times from the wrist. 
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5. Eat/Food

Arguably the most useful sign for weaning babies, this gesture will let your baby explain that she’s hungry. Place your finger tips together on one hand and take your hand to your mouth - almost like you're eating pretend food. 
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6. Drink

This gesture literally mimes the action of drinking. Simple to understand – even for even those who don’t know any sign language. Perhaps the most obvious, simply pretend to drink from a cup with one hand. 
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7. Mummy

Daddy not good enough? This sign will help you baby communicate that it’s you she wants instead. With one hand, spread your fingers apart with all five fingers up then touch your chin with your thumb. 
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8. Cuddle

Know when your baby is longing for a cuddle with this simple sign. Cross your arms over for this one and pretend you're giving yourself a little hug. 
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9. Daddy

Your baby can use this sign if she wants her daddy. Place your index finger and middle finger on both hands together, placing your right fingers over your left then simply brush your right fingers over the end of your left. 
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10. Change

If your baby’s got a dirty nappy, she can let you know herself with this change sign. With both hands in a fist shape and your index fingers shaped like a hook, cross your wrists with your right wrist over your left. Then, switch your left hand with your right in a circle, clockwise motion. 

Images from BSL sign graphics Cath Smith, the Let's Sign Series.

8 reasons for learning sign language with you baby


1. It boosts early communication skills

Babies naturally want to communicate – and baby signing is a brilliant way to help your little one to do so.

‘As their fine motor skills develop earlier than their ability to speak, they will start to clap, wave and point from around six to eight months,’ says Katja O’Neill from Signing Babies. ‘These natural gestures have been found to be a precursor for speech.’

Signing can add to these simple gestures, helping babies learn an astonishing 30 to 60 simple signs before they reach their first birthday. But Katja stresses that signing shouldn’t be used as a substitute for speech and language – rather in addition to it.

‘As you speak normally to your baby, you simply use a sign to emphasise the key word we try to communicate, i.e. “Do you want some milk”,’ explains Katja. Find out ten everyday signs, including milk, here.

2. A good dose of self-esteem

With signing, your baby learns to communicate her needs and observations long before she can speak, so you can easily respond to her. 

‘Being able to communicate our needs and having them met is a huge part of our wellbeing and self esteem,’ says Katja. ‘It also increases the self-esteem of the parent, because it’s wonderful to be able to know what your baby wants without playing the guessing game – which can make us feel inadequate sometimes!’

3. It reduces frustration

Various research has shown that signing may be able to help reduce the amount of tantrums your child has when learning to speak.

‘The ‘terrible twos’ peak at around 17 months, which is largely due to the discrepancy between your baby’s needs and wants, and her ability to make herself understood,’ explains Katja.

4. She’ll do better at school

Connecting the sound of a word to a visual sign can help a child get to grips with the word quicker. To teach your baby signs also helps them get used to learning at a very young age. 

‘When we sign, we connect the spoken word to a visual sign, which helps your baby to remember and learn the word more quickly,’ Katja explains. ‘Children who sign have also been found to have a larger “word bank” than non-signing children. The more words a child knows and uses by the age of five, the better they are thought to do academically, too.’

5. You’ll bond with your baby even more

When you sign at the same time and learn baby signs together, it's a great way to boost interaction levels between you and your baby – and can help boost her overall development. 

‘When your baby’s attempts to sign are recognised and rewarded, she’ll develop more,’ says Katja.

6. She’ll still be eager to chat

There have been lots of different ideas on whether signing speeds up a baby’s speech development and child communication with the learning of words and signs. And while no conclusion has been reached, baby signing hasn’t been found to harm a baby’s ability to talk.

‘However, the undisputed fact is that your baby can learn to sign many words before she’s able to speak, and it doesn’t hold back speech,’ says Katja.

7. It’s great for multilingual families

Some parents have found that baby signing can be a great international communication tool for babies used to hearing more than one language.

‘I’ve found that it helped in our bilingual family, as signing was a bridge between the two languages spoken in our home,’ says Katja. 

8. It makes you more confident

Arguably one of the best benefits of baby signing is that it will make you feel like you’re doing a good job at parenting. Understanding what your baby wants will make you feel like you know her better, consequently bringing you closer to each other.

If you use baby signing, how beneficial do you find it? Let us know in the comments box below.

Mum Jessica Brown and her 11-month-old daughter Alannah put baby signing to the test…


Baby signing appealed to me as I heard it could help me communicate better with my daughter, Alannah, 11 months, and understand her needs more.

Research suggests babies as young as six months can share their basic needs through sign language, letting you know when they’re hungry, need a drink or want their favourite toy. Experts say it can stop babies getting frustrated and help avoid tantrums. 

I found a class near my home in Solihull, West Midlands, run by TinyTalk (, £50 for a 12-week term) and booked two sessions. My husband was sceptical when I told him about babies using sign language, but I had an open mind. 

We started the class with a welcome song, sitting on chairs in a circle, using signs to sing ‘hello’ and the first letter of each baby’s name. We then moved onto the floor to learn a collection of signs for the day’s theme, ‘In The Garden’. Quite a few babies recognised the hand gestures for bird, butterfly and caterpillar. I learned signs for garden, sunshine and hedgehog. 

Next we got up on our feet to dance and sing along to I Went To School One Morning, finishing with every baby’s favourite, The Hokey Cokey, including the signs for arms, legs and shaking. 

We then sat back on the floor as the teacher, Charlie, began reading from a book, making signs for each animal, the weather and different times of the day. 

It was inspiring to see how engaged the babies were

Looking around the class it was inspiring to see how engaged the babies were, seemingly understanding some of the signs and smiling excitedly as their mums repeated them. Normally by this point in other classes most children are more interested in pulling each other's shoes/socks off or crawling across the room after spotting something more fascinating. 

The lesson finished after 40 minutes and I was offered tea and cakes – always a bonus! The mums sat around chatting about the progress since last week, to a chorus of ‘well done’ and ‘how exciting’ as they proudly revealed what their children had signed for the first time. Some babies who’d been attending for months knew 15 to 20 signs. Newbies were just grasping the basic signs for milk, food and dog. 

A mum whose son learned the sign for milk at 11 weeks old told me: ‘He totally understands what he’s asking for and uses it every day now.’ A mum with a 13-month-old said: ‘She knows 12 signs so far, the first she learned was for food, then more and all gone. Now she can tell me when she’s thirsty and in pain, usually pointing to where it hurts too.’

I found the more I encouraged her, the quicker she learned

The teacher advised me to practise basic signs at home with Alannah, saying it may take a few weeks. I found the more I encouraged her, the quicker she learned, and she definitely enjoyed it. Most children start communicating with gestures and sounds between six and 18 months, so this is a great time to start signing. TinyTalk uses simplified signs suitable for babies based on British Sign Language, which are all universal.

The next week I went back for my second lesson and practised with Alannah a lot at home too. Since our second class she’s learned the signs for all gone and where?. She also understands, but hasn’t yet copied, the signs for food and hot. I’m more aware of things she’s trying to say and show me. Before the classes I’d have probably overlooked this, so I feel I have a better understanding of her needs and can respond quicker. 

Baby signing is a fun activity which also helps you communicate better with your baby. Just be prepared to spend time practising at home!

5 tips for successful baby signing

  • Watch a few YouTube videos before your first class to familiarise yourself with basic signs. 
  • Find a class that fits into your baby’s routine, when she’s the most responsive and not tired or hungry.
  • Encourage other children and adults who have regular contact with your baby to use the signs too. This will help your little one learn quicker.
  • It’s important to speak at the same time as showing the sign, using lots of facial expression and body language. 
  • You can sign to your baby from birth, but she’ll only sign back around six months. Begin with basic signs, such as for milk and a favourite toy.

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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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