Communication and the systems that support using sounds begin to develop very early in life! A baby is born with the ability to distinguish Mom's voice from other voices and they use their cry to indicate they are hungry. As they grow, communicating becomes more systematic and they begin to use gestures, sounds, and words in order to relay their wants and needs more effectively. Most babies start to imitate gestures and sounds easily through simple and natural interactions. Other babies may need a little more support in order to stay on track in the early months that comprise a very important window of opportunity to learn and master the foundational skills of communication.
From birth to 1 month you can expect your child to cry, sneeze, cough, and make some nasally sounding vocalizations. Even at this young age, your baby can imitate simple mouth movements like opening his mouth or sticking out his tongue when you model it for him. He will quiet when he hears someone talking to him as well. Between 2 and 3 months you should begin to hear /k/ and /g/ sounds mixed with vowels as your baby plays with his oral cavity and vocalizes and he may begin to smile. He will show anticipation of being fed by giving eye contact to his bottle or Mommy. Your baby will start to do more play with sounds between 4 and 6 months as the ability to control and manipulate the oral structures needed for sequencing sounds in words progresses. You will hear "raspberries" and screeching or squealing sounds too. Babbling will emerge with simple consonant and vowel combinations like "ma" or "ba" (typically through large jaw movements during sound production of vowels) and you will hear /k/, /g/, /p/, and /b/ sounds. Your baby will establish eye contact or look at toys with you and interact socially by smiling or using sounds to get your attention and will do back and forth play using sound.
From 7 to 9 months strings of true repeated babbling will appear and your baby will use more consonant sounds like /p/, /b/, /m/, /n/, /t/, /d/, /w/ and /y/. He will begin to imitate sounds with approximations and will use simple gestures like waving bye bye or shaking his head to say "no". Look for at least 4 different sounds in his verbal output. At least half of the time you call his name he will vocalize in response. At 10 months jargon predominates vocal play and your baby will start to make longer utterances that sound like adult sentences or questions. At least one true word should emerge by the 12 months, usually a motivating word like doggy, go, Mama, or num num. But most babies have at least 4-5 words including Mama and Dada by their first birthday. Your baby should respond to his name when called, point to gain new words, use gestures to interact with you, and participate in games like peek-a-boo. He should also be able to follow your point to look at something together with you, show you toys that he is interested in by holding them up to you, and make sure you have your attention on the same things he does. He will respond to simple directions like "Go get your shoes." or "Bring me your ball." Your baby will point to answer questions and begin to imitate simple words like animal sounds and noises (wee, uh-oh, yay, weeoo). Your baby will now be able to initiate interactions with you by gesturing a familiar play routine (peek-a-boo).
As a new parent, we rely on the information and advice from the professionals that surround our baby's general care to help guide us through the maze to find what is best for our child. If you have concerns that your baby is not interacting, not smiling, or not beginning to make sounds or words then start keeping notes (I keep a running list of milestones in my phone's note page with dates so that I can remember when a specific skill started to emerge...this makes it easy to compare to the typical development expectations when you read them.) Since you are the expert on your baby, share any concerns you might have about how your baby is developing in these areas with your pediatrician. Employ an urgency to seek a consultation or evaluation by a pediatric speech-language pathologist rather than "wait and see". Start to make changes at home immediately to see if your baby needs stimulation in a different way. Below you will find a list of ways you can encourage interactions, sounds, and words.
Incorporate more tummy time: This will help your baby develop necessary core strength for mastery of higher level skills. In order to start being able to move the tongue separately from the jaw to make sounds, your baby needs to be able to dissociate the head from the body and the jaw from the head.
Imitate and model sounds and actions: Build routines of back and forth play with your baby by imitating the sounds and gestures or facial expression she does. Use early sounds like googoo gaga or "bababa", animal sounds, and excitatory words like yay and wee to help stimulate her to imitate you in return.
Build expectations through repeated play/language routines: Use short and simple songs or tickle activities like "I'm gonna get your belly" (followed by tickles) or "Patty cake patty cake baker's man...roll em up roll em up put em in the pan!". Do this in playful interaction with your baby to build expectations for the words, actions, and gesture that go with each specific play routine you introduce.
Use self talk: Talk about what you are doing while you do it. Narrate your actions and label things you see in your environment while drawing baby's attention to them by touching or pointing to them. This will expose her to labels for familiar objects and people in her environment, help her connect words with meanings, and give her multiple opportunities to gain joint and shared attention with you.
Read and share stories: Reading books with your baby will also expose him to new vocabulary and assist in making the connection between sounds, word, and pictures. Draw your baby's interest to the pictures and words in the book much the same as during "self talk". Storytelling, even without a book, supports language growth, imagination, and early literacy skills.