Decoding Baby Talk

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Learning more about language and social development during baby’s first year can help new parents better decipher their baby’s cries and other social cues.

During your baby’s first year, you’ll notice rapid changes in his social and emotional development. While newborns often communicate through crying, older babies may cry, move their arms and legs, gesture to desired objects, smile, mimic sounds, and even say simple words, such as “mama” or “da da,” to get your attention.

From Birth to 3 Months

When you first bring your newborn baby home from the hospital, crying is her main communicative tool. Obvious crying cues include hunger, fatigue, pain or a wet diaper, but your baby may also cry when she wants to be held, has excess energy to burn or feels overstimulated by her environment. Over time, you’ll learn to better distinguish her cries, as most babies’ cries vary in pitch and length depending on need, according to the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning at Vanderbilt University.

3 to 7 Months

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), by the time your baby is 3 months old, she’ll begin smiling, become more expressive during play and start recognizing family members. At 4 months old, the AAP explains she’ll likely start babbling and making sounds based on syllables and language rhythms. By 6 to 7 months, she’ll begin actively trying to imitate words, an early precursor to talking.

To help facilitate language and social development, talk back to her when she is babbling, read her stories and repeat simple, one-syllable words that will be easy for her to learn.

8 Months to 1 Year

Many parents begin preparing themselves to hear their baby’s precious first words as the first year comes to a close, but it’s important to remember that all children develop at their own pace. If your baby hasn’t spoken his first word by his birthday, you shouldn’t be concerned as long as he’s making progress toward speaking, which the AAP defines as experimenting with sounds that vary in pitch, intensity and quality.

Baby Wellness Visits: What Should You Expect?

Throughout their first year, babies see their pediatrician every few months for routine checkups. These visits not only allow doctors to administer vaccines and track growth and development, but also give new parents a much-needed opportunity to ask questions and voice concerns.

According to the Nemours Foundation, things to expect during your child’s well-baby visits include:

  • A physical exam—Your child’s pediatrician will weigh your baby, measure his length and head circumference, listen to his heartbeat, and check for age-appropriate reflexes, growth, and normal hearing and vision.
  • An overview of the social and physical developmental skills your baby should be mastering depending on her age
  • A review of your child’s sleeping and feeding patterns
  • Vaccinations, as needed

Did You Know?

> The next time you talk to your baby or to a friend’s child, be mindful of your speech. Did your voice rise in pitch? Babies prefer their mother’s higher voices—a fact most adults unconsciously understand and account for when interacting with little ones.

> According to the Nemours Foundation, most newborns experience a predictable period of fussiness every day, usually between the early evening hours and midnight. While frustrating, this is normal and is not reflective of poor parenting.

> The AAP recommends parents begin reading to their children during early infancy.

Schedule doctor visits for your child online at! Day or night, schedule appointments for next day and beyond with pediatricians Alan Brown, M.D., or Bird Gilmartin, M.D., here.

Drs. Brown and Gilmartin are members of the medical staff at Evanston Regional Hospital.