Baby’s first words

From day one, it is so important that you talk to your child – a lot.  While Baby’s first words may be some way off and they certainly will not be responding with conversation in the traditional sense, they are taking in everything you have to say.  Even if they may not seem to be understanding very much.

You will see this from the intense way they gaze into your face.  Along with the ways in which they seek to make eye contact with you and watch your lips move when you talk.  Even copying you if you poke out your tongue or make a “O” shape with your mouth.

Your baby’s first words are being practiced every time they make  vocal sounds.  Starting from the day they are born. 

At around 4-10 months your baby will begin repeating sounds that include both a consonant and a vowel and are recognisable as the syllables within speech.  For example “ma ma ma” or “ba ba ba”.  This precursor to speech is called canonical babbling and is your babies’ way of practicing the pronunciation of syllables.  These are then the building blocks of complete words. 

So, can you class this as your baby’s first words? 

Well, this really depends.  Not just on the sounds they are making, but on the meaning they are connecting with them.  Studies have shown that children as young as six-months are able to assign the correct meaning to words that they hear.  And that, unsurprisingly, the words they hear their parents use in conversation with them every day are the ones they recognise with the most success.

Like with all your child’s developmental milestones, it is normal for the timing of speech milestones to fluctuate.  So, when should you worry? 

Some studies have suggested that approximately 25% of children have not spoken their first words by the age of 12 months.  And yet speech delays can have knock on effects throughout their development.  There are then guidelines in place to identify if your child may need a little extra support and there are lots of things that you can do to help. 

If your child has not started canonical babbling by the time they are around 9 months old, monitor this and talk to your health care professional for some advice.  You can typically expect their first words between 11-13 months.  With major improvements in their understanding of speech by around 14 months.  If this is not your experience, again consult with your health care professional. 

With a little additional support in the early days, many potential issues can be eased or resolved. 

However, the longer communication issues are left, the more likely your child is to experience the range of problems that can be associated with them.  So, do not let early speech delays limit your child’s development in other areas.  And ask those questions if you are at all concerned.

One of the first things you can do to support your child’s early speech is to make sure they have lots of opportunities to hear it, to try it and to get feedback from their attempts.  This will never come from electronic devices, so switch of all the technology and talk to your child.  Reduce artificial or distracting noise so that they can hear natural, two-way conversation.  And have fun as you exchange those babbles, learning what your child wants to say.

This article is taken from our course: What Every Parent Should Know

Dr Kathryn Peckham is an Early Childhood Consultant, author and researcher and the founder of Nurturing Childhoods.  Providing all the knowledge, understanding and support you need to nurture your growing child.


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