One of the most exciting events for new parents is hearing their baby utter his first words. It is hard to say for sure when to expect your baby to say his first words, but most babies will be able to say 3 to 5 words by the time they are about a year old. Your baby may start trying to talk sooner than this. As a matter of fact, you may hear your baby babbling words like “ma ma” and “da da” as early as six months of age. While he may be practicing making sounds and imitating at this age, he probably doesn’t actually understand the meaning of the words he is babbling just yet.
Receptive language comes first
Your baby’s receptive language, or what he understands, develops before his expressive language, or what he says. When you talk to your baby, you are helping to develop his receptive language and stimulating his overall language development. Even if your baby isn’t able to speak to you, he is still absorbing information and expanding his vocabulary just by listening to you. Some babies take longer to learn how to coordinate their tongue and mouth to form sounds.
Early expressive language
Birth to 3 months
Your baby starts learning to communicate with you very early. One of the first ways your baby communicates with you is by crying. Now this may not sound like language development but this is how he tells you what’s going on. You may even discover that your baby has a different type of cry depending on what he is trying to communicate to you.
4- 6 months
At around 4-6 months your baby will start babbling. He should also be responding to you by smiling and cooing. This is how he communicates with you at this age. Even though he isn’t forming actual words with his babbling, he should be starting to make some of the sounds he will later use to form words. You may hear him making vowel sounds first like “ooh” and “aah” and then later he will start combining consonants and vowels to make sounds like “da da” or “ba ba”.
Your baby’s receptive language will really start to blossom during this time. He will understand more and should be able to understand simple instructions like “no-no.” Your baby may not be talking just yet but he should be babbling by now. Pay attention to him and you may notice him trying to imitate sounds or gestures that you make. For example, he may wave bye bye or blow kisses. If he hasn’t started talking yet, try not to worry. He should be saying his first words soon.
Baby’s first words
Your baby will likely say his first words sometime between 11 and 14 months. By 18 months, you can expect him to be able to say up to 20 words. Not all babies, however, develop at the same pace or reach milestones at the same time. If you ask a group of moms when their children started talking, you will probably get a different answer from each mom. Even when you compare children from the same family, you will see variations on when each child learned to talk. Developmental milestones are designed to help parents and doctors stay alert for signs of problems.
Encouraging your baby to talk
Here are some things you can do to encourage your baby to talk:
- Imitate your baby’s sounds and encourage him to imitate you. Try smiling when he smiles, laughing when he laughs, or making “ooh” and “aah” sounds when he makes “ooh” and “aah” sounds.
- Play games like “peek-a-boo” and “so big” with your baby. Your baby will learn to anticipate what comes next and learn to mimic you during play time.
- Talk to your baby throughout the day. For example, when you get him dressed, tell him what you are doing. Little things like saying, “mommy is putting socks on your feet now” will help your baby learn new words.
- Read to your baby. First word books are great for teaching your baby new words. It may take a while before your baby is able to say the words in the book but he may be able to identify words by pointing.
Should I be concerned if my baby isn’t talking?
If your baby is under 15 months and not talking yet, this is not a cause for concern. He should be babbling by the time he reaches his first birthday though. If he is not babbling by the time he turns one, you should discuss this with your doctor. You should also pay attention to how your baby responds to sounds. If he does not respond to his name when you call him, turn his head towards the direction of a loud sound, or if you just feel that something is not right, you should talk to your doctor. By around 16 months your baby should be saying at least a few words. If your baby is not saying anything at all by 16 months, you may want to talk to your doctor about getting early intervention services set up for your baby. This does not necessarily mean that your baby is not developing normally. Some perfectly healthy babies do not talk until they are closer to two years old. Still, if you are worried about your baby's speech or language development, you should discuss your concerns with your doctor.