Babies are little sponges right from when they are born (and even whilst they are in the womb)! They are absorbing information from all of their experiences and surroundings and trying to sort through the information to store the ‘important stuff’. We often talk about first words that children develop around 12 months of age, but your baby is communicating with you right from birth and we can communicate back to them!
As a Speech Pathologist I am often asked about language and communication in babies. These are the baby communication milestones that you can expect:
Crying as a method of baby communication
At such a young age, when babies haven’t learnt to talk or make intentional facial expressions, their main way of communicating with you is crying – it tells you that they need you, whether they are uncomfortable, in pain, have a dirty nappy or are hungry. They also very quickly learn to cry when they want you (even though nothing is wrong)!
When babies are born, they are unable to see very far, in fact sometimes as little as 20cm, but during their first three months they develop the ability to recognize faces from a distance. After they are born, as parents, you are the main people that the baby regularly sees and begins to recognize. Spend time returning their gaze when they look at you and as they start to look around, take an interest by sharing the gaze and looking at the same object or direction. This is the very beginning of a child’s social skills.
When we think communication, we automatically think of the sounds and words that someone is saying, but communication is also about listening! Babies spend a lot of time listening and a major development milestone is the ability to discriminate between sounds, knowing the difference between voices and external noise, picking out their mother’s voice amongst other people’s voices and even beginning to understand the meaning behind different tones of voice (e.g. angry or excited).
When your baby starts making noises other than crying it is a very exciting time for parents! You may hear coos or gurgles of happiness, or grunts of frustration. As they get older, you may hear clearer sounds, or sound combinations, and the development of babbling. This babbling becomes more complex in the variety of sounds that the baby makes, and may even start to sound like they are having a conversation with you. Respond to your baby as if they are talking to you, make comments, ask them questions, and show excitement in what they are interested in, even if you don’t know what they are saying!
Laughing and Smiling
Smiles can start to emerge quite early, and at the really early stages they are typically not a sign of happiness, but as they get older, they start to learn to smile to show that they like something, and when little laughs come out it is such a fun stage to be playing with your child. Repetitive, silly games are great for babies as they begin to learn the concept of cause and effect. Games such as peek-a-boo or rock-a-bye-baby are so much fun because they build suspense, and usually result in lots of laughter! Smile and laugh along with them to show that you share their sense of humour and that you love playing with them.
Do you have concerns about your baby communication milestones?
If you have concerns about these milestones, it may worth discussing with your paediatrician or child health nurse – at least for peace of mind. If you specifically have concerns about your baby’s hearing, or if your baby has recurrent ear infections, make sure that you get their hearing tested as soon as possible. Making the most of the early stages of development is essential for children to develop strong communication skills.
Have fun communicating with your baby! Little ones develop so quickly so take the time to enjoy each and every moment.
Resource alert: Babies develop at varying rates so it is difficult to attribute a specific age to each milestone. Download the 0-12 month old baby checklist at www.thespeel.com for more information.
More information on baby milestones is available here