You might think talking doesn’t start until your baby is older. In fact, babies communicate from birth through crying, eye contact and listening. When you talk and communicate with your baby, you build baby’s language – and your relationship too.
Crying: baby’s first communication
From the moment they’re born, babies have a very effective way of telling you what they’re thinking and feeling. It’s called crying.
Crying is how babies let you know they want or need something – more cuddles please, no more cuddles please, too hungry, not hungry enough, too tired, not tired enough, feeling too cold, feeling too warm. And sometimes babies cry for no obvious reason.
Crying is the only way your new baby knows how to communicate his needs to you. Your baby doesn’t cry to annoy you – there’s no such thing as a naughty newborn. You can’t spoil your baby by responding when he cries.
You’ll soon recognise that your baby cries in different ways depending on what she needs and how quickly she needs it.
How talking starts
As well as crying, your baby uses eye contact to communicate with you, listening intently to every word and sound you make. Your baby might gaze into your face and watch your mouth.
Listening and watching you talk helps your baby understand the basics of communicating. In fact, your baby absorbs a huge amount of information about words and talking from birth.
At about 7-8 weeks of age, your baby discovers something terrific – a voice. At this stage, your baby will start serenading you with coos and simple sounds.
As babies grow, they start to make more sounds, smile and wave their arms and feet around. They’re getting the idea of conversation and want to tell you all sorts of interesting things. If you listen and respond to your baby’s murmurs, baby is likely to babble and gurgle more.
The sing-song voice that many grown-ups use around babies is called ‘parentese’. It sounds a bit like this: ‘Helloooo babbeeee, who’s a widdle baaabeeee?’ Babies prefer this kind of talk to normal grown-up conversation. So go right ahead if you want to use parentese to talk to your baby.
Play ideas to help with talking
Lots of parents feel a bit silly talking to a little baby who doesn’t talk back. But talking about what you’re seeing and doing can really help your baby’s development. The main thing is to create a loving, warm feeling.
The more you talk with your baby, the easier it becomes – and you’ll be rewarded with your baby’s responses.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Try ‘parentese’. Your baby will love watching your eyes sparkle and your mouth stretching out around words.
- Talk about what you’re doing. For example, ‘We’re going to give you a nice warm bath now. You like your bath, don’t you?’ Talk in any language, or switch between different languages. It all helps your baby learn about words and talking.
- Sing songs and rhymes. This is a fun way to help your baby’s language skills develop. In the car, in the bath, at bedtime – even if it’s off-key. Your baby will love the rhythm of the words and will be soothed by your voice. If you need help remembering the words of songs and rhymes, check out our Baby Karaoke.
Read books and tell stories to your baby from birth. After a few weeks, your baby will know that this is when you enjoy a quiet, special time together. Your baby will start to recognise words and learn to listen to what others say. If your baby cries or wriggles while you’re reading, you might want to try again later. The idea is to have special time together, so there’s no need to force it.
- Listen to your baby’s first efforts at babbling and then respond. Leave a gap when it’s your baby’s turn to talk again. This teaches your baby about the pattern of conversation. If your baby doesn’t take a turn, or isn’t interested in chatting right now, try again another time. Let your baby’s interest and responses guide you.
- Name the toys and objects around you. For example, ‘Look, these are your socks. We’re going to put them on your feet, aren’t we?’
Talking: when to be concerned
All babies develop at different rates. Lots of babies make eye contact and sounds early, but others might not until three months. If your baby doesn’t do something at the same age as other babies, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be worried.
But sometimes delays in communication skills can be signs of more serious developmental disorders or developmental delay, including language delay, hearing impairment, intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder.
You know your child better than anyone else. If you’re worried, talk to your child and family health nurse, your GP or another child health professional. If your health professional doesn’t have concerns about your child, but you still do, it’s OK to seek another opinion.