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, 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 their 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 they cry.
When a baby cries for a long time and can’t be calmed, it can be very distressing. If you need help dealing with your baby’s crying, our crying babies video is a good place to start. You could also check out our illustrated guide to soothing a crying baby.
How baby talking starts
Your baby absorbs a huge amount of information about words and talking from birth. Just listening to you and watching you talk helps your baby understand the basics of communicating.
For example, your new baby uses eye contact to communicate with you. Your baby might gaze into your face and watch your mouth. Your baby is also listening intently to every word and sound you make.
At about 7-8 weeks of age, your baby discovers that they have a voice. You can expect your baby to start cooing and making simple sounds.
And as your baby grows, they’ll start to make more sounds. For example, your baby will experiment with sounds like sneezing, coughing, gagging and squealing to get your attention. Your baby will also start to smile and wave their arms and feet around. And then your baby will use gestures like pointing and waving bye-bye.
Your baby is getting the idea of conversation and wants to tell you all sorts of interesting things.
How to encourage talking
When babies are alert, they’re more interested in communicating.
When your baby shows signs of wanting to communicate, you can respond by:
- being enthusiastic, warm and encouraging
- using plenty of facial expressions
- talking about what your baby is pointing at, if they point
- praising your baby if they wave and then waving back.
It’s good to leave a gap after you’ve responded to your baby. This teaches your baby about the ‘serve and return’ pattern of conversation. If your baby doesn’t take a turn, or isn’t interested in chatting right now, you can try again another time. Let your baby’s interest and responses guide you.
Many parents feel a bit silly talking to a little baby who doesn’t talk back. The more you talk with your baby, the easier it becomes – and you’ll be rewarded with your baby’s responses. The way you respond, however silly, will help your baby learn to communicate.
The main thing is to create a loving, warm feeling between you and your baby. You can use simple, enjoyable interactions and play to encourage your baby’s talking and language skills.
By communicating back and forth with your baby, you’re also creating and sharing experiences together, which strengthens your relationship with your child. And a strong relationship with you is essential to your baby’s healthy development.
Talking: when to be concerned
Babies develop at different rates. Many babies make eye contact and sounds early, but others might not start until around 3 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.
It’s also worth remembering that children differ in how much they express themselves. Children with more outgoing personalities might be more vocal than those who are quieter and slower to warm up.
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.
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.