How vocal should my baby be?
Updated: Mar 30, 2018
As parents one milestone we patiently wait for is the arrival of the first word. But did you know that a baby's speech development begins at birth? Even though your baby can only cry at birth from the very beginning they are forming a bond with their caregivers. This bond will later turn into the desire for social interaction and one way we interact with others is through speech! Those first smiles your baby gives you lets you know she enjoys interacting with you.
A one month old baby may begin to imitate some movements of his mouth in response to you. Your baby's cries will also contain vowel sounds and most of these sounds will come out of his nose since at birth the tongue fills the majority of their mouth.
At around 2-3 months of age your baby's tongue will move back in her mouth and she will learn to send air through her mouth. This is when you will begin to hear those sweet cooing sounds. As soon as 2-3 months of age your baby will vocalize (make a sound) in response to you talking or interacting with her. These early cooing sounds are made up of vowel sounds.
At about 3 months of age you will begin to hear some sounds that are made in the back of the throat (h, k, g). This is also when you will be able to differentiate between your babies cries. Your baby is learning to manipulate his mouth and airflow.
At around 3-4 months of age you will begin to hear sounds made with the lips (m, p, b). You may also begin to hear repetitive sound combinations (mama, baba). This is also when your baby will begin to laugh and vocalize during turn-taking routines (such as peek-a-boo).
At around 4-6 months you will notice your baby becoming louder, this is because she is gaining better control and coordination of her breathing and muscles in her throat. At this age your baby will also begin to produce "raspberries".
At around 5-6 months of age a baby will begin to practice putting different sounds together (bee, daa, paa).
Around 6-9 months, your baby will being to combine two different syllables (ma ba) and say four syllables together (ma ma ma ma), your baby's babbling will sound rhythmic. Your baby will also begin to raise his voice to get your attention and will begin to imitate your speech and other sounds (i.e., a cough).
By 9 months a baby will respond to your vocalizations 80% of the time. You will also begin to hear longer sequences of speech because your baby is developing increased control over her breathing.
At 9-12 months your baby will say her first word with meaning. Your baby will continue to add words to her vocabulary, by 15 months your baby should have at least seven meaningful words they use spontaneously and frequently. It is normal for your baby's words to not be pronounced correctly, it is developmentally appropriate for a one year old to leave off the last sound in a word (i.e., "ba" for "ball") or shorten long words (i.e., "nana for banana").
By 15-18 months your baby will be able to repeat the names of items when prompted and independently label familiar items.
By 18 months your baby will have at least 15-20 words.
By 18-21 months your baby should be beginning to put two words together (i.e., milk please).
All babies will acquire language at a slightly different rate. If your child is a little behind schedule, but appears to be following the patterns listed above this is usually not a concern. However, if your baby has skipped over a whole developmental pattern or is significantly behind seek out an evaluation by a speech pathologist. Trust your parental instincts and if you have concerns it doesn't hurt to talk with a speech therapist or schedule an evaluation just to make sure your child is on track. It is always best to start therapy early when a speech or feeding problem is present.
Bahr, D. (2011). Nobody Ever Told Me (or my Mother) That!: Everything from Bottles and Breathing to Healthy Speech Development.
Katie is the owner of Katie Carney Speech Therapy, LLC, where she provides in-home play based and family centered speech and feeding therapy on the south side of Chicago. Katie has a passion for oral motor, feeding, and speech development. To contact Katie visit her website at katiecarneyspeech.com, call her at 773-914-2194, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.