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Talking, singing and reading aloud with your new baby can be great fun from birth onwards. Every word also helps develop baby’s communication skills and builds your relationship with your child.

Baby playing with a cloth book
 

Crying: baby’s first communication

From the moment they’re born, babies use an extensive vocabulary to tell 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 with you. Your baby doesn’t cry to annoy you – there’s no such thing as a naughty newborn.

You’ll soon recognise that your baby cries in different ways depending on what your baby needs and how quickly it’s needed.

If you need help dealing with your baby’s crying, our video on crying babies is a good place to start. You could also check out our illustrated guide to dealing with a crying baby.

How talking starts

As well as crying, your baby uses eye contact to talk to 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 vowel sounds.

As babies grow, they start to make more sounds and to smile and wave their arms and feet around. They’re getting the idea of conversation and want to tell you all sorts of interesting stuff. If you listen and respond to your baby’s murmurs, baby is likely to babble and gurgle with gusto before long.

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?’ Experts say that babies prefer this to normal grown-up conversation. So go right ahead if you want to use parentese to talk to your baby.

Play ideas to help talking

Lots of parents feel a bit silly talking to a little baby who doesn’t chat 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, happy feeling.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Try ‘parentese’. Baby will love watching your eyes sparkle and your mouth stretching out around words.
  • Give a running commentary 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 some 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. 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. Forcing the issue will defeat the purpose of creating a special time for both of you.
  • 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 baby about the pattern of conversation. If baby doesn’t take a turn, or isn’t interested in chatting right now, try again another time. Let your baby’s interest 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?’

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 concerned.

But sometimes delays in communication skills can be signs of more serious developmental disorders or delay. These include language delay, hearing impairment, intellectual disability and autism

You know your child better than anyone else.  If you have a concern, talk to your GP or a health professional.  If your health care provider doesn’t have concerns about your child, but you still do, seek another opinion.
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  • Last Updated 02-07-2010
  • Last Reviewed 01-03-2010
  • Manning-Morton, J., & Thorp, M. (2003). Key times for play: The first three years. Philadelphia: Open University Press.

    Thompson, R.A. (1998). Early sociopersonality development. In W. Damon (Series Ed.) & N. Eisenberg (Vol. Ed.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 3. Social, emotional and personality development (5th edn). New York: Wiley.