Babies and Babbling: What do your baby’s babbles mean, and what to expect?

Baby babbles, coos and gurgles are adorable, but they are also your baby’s earliest attempts at language. Regardless of what language a baby eventually learns, the process is the same. Babies innately respond to the rhythm of language and recognize the rise and fall of pitch. 

First, they begin imitating sounds, and by four months, they can already distinguish the sounds of language from other sounds in the environment. By only six months, babies can make all of the sounds in language; however, by their first birthday, they will stop using the sounds that aren’t part of their home language. 

So what exactly is babbling, what does it sound like, and how can you encourage your baby to babble and then talk? This article is your guide to everything you need to know about baby babbles and early language development!

What is Baby Babbling?

Babbling is one of the earliest ways your little one will communicate with you. Babbling is the combination of consonant and vowel sounds strung together. Sounds like ma-ma and da-da are often some of the earliest babbling noises babies make, and parents often mistake these sounds for their baby’s first words. Of course, over time, these babble strings will become words, but these early sounds are nothing more than your baby practicing. 

When Do Babies Start Babbling?

Most babies start babbling around four months old, making simple cooing and gurgling sounds. Around six-month-old babies begin stringing vowel sounds together and begin making consonant sounds. Between nine and twelve months, your baby will put consonant and vowel sounds together.

Around twelve to eighteen months, your baby will start saying simple words like Mama, Dada, no, and a handful of other familiar names and words. 

Developing Your Baby’s Babbling Skills

Like all other major milestones, your baby will learn how to babble and talk through practice and interactions with you and those around them. Therefore one of the best things you can do to encourage your baby to babble is to talk to them and engage them in conversation.

You can talk to your baby about anything! First, talk about your day, what you see and hear, and what your baby is doing or playing with. In addition, ask your baby questions and pause and allow them to babble in return. This back and forth pattern teaches your baby how conversations work and allows them to hear a wide variety of vocabulary.

When you talk to your baby, use long and elaborate sentences and sprinkle in new and different words from time to time. For example, instead of saying, “Look at the dog!” Instead, you could say, “Look at the fluffy brown dog,” or “Do you see the adorable, soft dog?”

You can also develop your baby’s babbling skills by singing to them, reading to them, imitating them and their sounds, and playing with them. 

Even though your baby is not speaking yet, they are beginning to understand what you’re saying. The more positive interactions you have with your baby involving language and literacy, the more their language and social skills develop!

Signs of a Speech Delay

Most babies won’t start speaking until after their first birthday, so a lack of “real words” or vocab alone isn’t cause for concern. If, however, your child is not speaking any actual words by 18-months-old you may wish to discuss the possibility of a speech delay with their pediatrician.

Speech delays can be caused by several factors inducing hearing loss, low muscle tone, cognitive delays, and an autism spectrum disorder. 

If your child seems to engage socially with others but is not using words, your pediatrician will probably begin with a hearing test. Although an initial screening is performed at birth, roughly 1,000 newborns experience hearing loss. Additionally, frequent ear infections and illnesses can create fluid in the ears, impacting your child’s hearing ability. 

Your pediatrician may also refer you to a speech pathologist who can diagnose specific speech delays and work with you and your child to improve their language skills.

Developmental and cognitive disorders can also create speech delays. Roughly 17% of American children have a cognitive delay, such as an autism spectrum disorder. It is important to note that autism does not indicate a low level or lack of intelligence. For example, many brilliant people had or have an autism spectrum disorder. Albert Einstein, for one, did not speak until he was three years old! 

If your child does not smile, make eye contact, laugh, or babble, these could indicate autism spectrum disorder. In addition, if your child was doing these behaviors and has since stopped, that is also an early warning sign. 

Speaking and singing to your baby is the best thing you can do to encourage verbal development. The good news is there isn’t an incorrect way to speak with your baby as long as it is in a friendly and gentle tone. Make daily conversations and story time part of your routine with your baby. It doesn’t matter what you say; you can narrate the weather; exposure to language is key, and before you know it, your baby will be babbling up a storm!

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