When you’re a new parent, you’ll find yourself looking forward to a million little milestones. The first time baby rolls over. The first time baby smiles. The first time baby sneezes. The list goes on and on and on! But you’re probably especially eager for one particular milestone: baby’s first word. So, when do babies start talking? And how do you know they aren’t just “babbling”?
Before we go any further, there’s something you should remember as you read this article, Mama: The point at which babies reach developmental milestones like talking can range greatly from child to child. If your baby isn’t hitting these milestones at the exact timeframes referenced, don’t fret, no two babies are alike. Just give your child’s pediatrician a call with any concerns you might have.
Now, let’s take a closer look at when you might be able to expect baby’s first words.
When do “mama” and “dada” count?
While we all want to believe our babies are prodigies the first time they coo “Mamamama” at mere months old, the more likely truth is that your little one is probably babbling.
Before babies reach the baby talk stage, they experiment with sound. Cooing often begins by the end of three months — a sweet, sing-songy vocalization. At six months, your baby might start forming sounds into what almost sound like words. “Ba-ba,” “da-da,” “Mama.” Alas, at this age, baby is typically just stringing together random consonant sounds without meaning.
Don’t let that diminish your joy for these moments, though! This precursor to talking is still something to celebrate. And some studies show that babies can associate “mama” with you as early as 6 months old. Plus, babbling, cooing, and even crying are all ways in which your baby is trying to communicate with you.
How do you know when baby is getting closer to talking?
Around nine months old, you’ll probably notice a shift in babies babbling to include more syllables. So, instead of “mama” and “dada,” they might babble “ma-ma-ma” or “ba-ma-da.” Fun fact? Babbling at this stage sounds basically the same no matter what language you speak!
Also, it’s around eight or nine months that babies often master another important language development step: pointing. Yes, this is a non-verbal step, but it falls under language development since it shows your child is engaged with their environment and trying to share that experience with you.
So, when do babies really start talking?
Baby’s first birthday is a monumental occasion in and of itself. But it’s also an exciting time because you may actually hear baby’s first word (or words). Between 12 and 18 months, babies start to use words that have meaning. Instead of babbling “dadada,” they might point to Dad and say “Dada.” By the time your little one reaches 18 months, they may have anywhere from eight to 10 words in their arsenal.
How can you help your baby talk?
To put it plainly, you show them how it’s done. Talking to your little one is one of the best things you can do to help foster their language development. It’s hearing the rhythm of words and watching their parents’ lips move that babies process and learn language. And while “baby talk” won’t hurt your child, you should also make sure you’re speaking plainly to your baby, too.
Describe what you’re doing, whether it’s changing baby’s socks or getting out a jar of baby food. Repetition is your friend; hearing words and phrases more than once helps reinforce their meaning. The more language they’re exposed to — and the more expression they see tied to that language — the better.
What to do if your baby doesn’t talk?
Listen, being a parent is nerve-wracking. You’ll find countless things to worry about every single day. So, we’re not going to tell you not to worry — you will anyway. But we will reiterate that babies can develop language skills at different paces. If your baby is hitting pre-language milestones like cooing, babbling, gurgling, and pointing, they’re likely on the path toward their first words. In fact, many babies who take a little longer wind up having a word explosion at some point.
Your child’s pediatrician will look for signs of speech and language delays during your well-checks. In between those visits, you can keep an eye out for red flags as well. Signs of speech and language delays in babies can include apparent issues with hearing well, lack of response to parents’ voices or name being called (the latter after nine months), absence of startle reflex over sounds, and incoherence once they do begin “talking.”
Should you notice any of these signs, or have concerns in general, don’t hesitate to reach out to your child’s doctor. They’re there to help.