The ‘da-da-da’ or ‘ba-ba-ba’ sounds your baby makes are the stepping stones to their first words. Baby babbling is a continuous string of vowel and consonant sounds produced by your little one. These repetitive sounds may seem meaningless, but it plays a major role in encouraging language development in infants. Besides babbling, your baby may make cooing or gurgling sounds as well.
This post takes you through some reasons babies babble, the vocalization milestones associated with babbling, and tips on how parents can respond to it.
Why Do Babies Babble?
Newborns begin to babble to express their desire to talk, consequently constructing meaningful words and phrases at later stages of their language development. A baby would babble to mimic the words spoken by parents or caregivers or mimic the ambient sounds. You may notice your baby babbling in a tone that matches the pitches of your voice or accent. Babbling to imitate lays the foundation for learning new words through listening.
Babbling could also be a response to sensations. Babies’ senses are overwhelmed with several stimuli. Babbling is one of the many responses used to exhibit their reaction to their new sensations. Some babies may babble when startled by loud sounds. In such cases, a baby might cry and babble at a higher pitch.
When Do Babies Start Babbling?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies begin to babble from the age of four months (1). The baby would babble with different tones to express emotions, and attempt to copy the sounds they hear (2). The babbling continues and improves as the baby grows older. It progresses to monosyllables by six months and bisyllables by nine months. By the age of 12 months, the baby will be able to speak simple words and exclamations, such as “Mama,” “Dada,” and “Oh” (3).
Despite the usual timelines, each baby may achieve babbling at a different age. The subsequent improvement in the skill may also vary among babies.
How Does Babbling Develop?
1. Canonical babble
- Between four and six months, infants begin to produce chains of syllabic sounds, combining consonants and vowel sounds. This is known as canonical babbling.
- It might include reduplication (dada, baba), long repetitions (mamama, dadadada), or interlacing syllables (ma, di, ba).
- Canonical babble might initially be gibberish but could seem similar to words or other sounds as the baby grows older (between eight and nine months). For instance, the baby’s babbling could begin to resemble their parents’ spoken words.
2. Jargon stage
- Between ten and 12 months, the baby will use babbling to express their feelings. A baby will babble to converse with those around them, shaping the babbling into a precursor to proper linguistic conversations. This is known as the jargon stage of babbling.
- The babbling of the syllables exhibits a resemblance to the baby’s native language. It could also have intonations and pulsations similar to their parents’ speech, although you may not hear distinct words.
- This stage constantly evolves up to the age of 12 months, when babies usually utter their first word. Their first intelligible words may resemble their frequently babbled sounds.
What To Expect When Your Baby Starts To Babble?
Once a four-month-old begins to babble, they gradually achieve various babbling and other speech- and language-related milestones at different ages (6).
Four to six months
- Babbling may occur to imitate ambient sounds, noises, or the voices of the caregivers.
- The baby responds to sounds by making babbling sounds.
- The baby babbles a couple of vowel sounds, such as “ah,” “eh,” or “oh,” and simple consonant sounds, “buh” and “muh.”
- Some babies may respond to their names through babbling.
Six to twelve months
- An infant begins to repeat interlaced consonant and vowel sounds, such as“da-da-da”and “aa-ma-euh.”
- During this phase, a few babbled words may have meanings since the baby may repeatedly use them in specific situations or for certain objects. For instance, the baby may look at a toy and always babble “aabaa,” likely suggesting that the baby refers to that toy by the name.
- By the end of this stage, the baby may begin to say “Mama” and “Dada.” The baby may also try to babble the phrases or sentences you speak.
Twelve to twenty-four months
- The baby begins to speak simple single words, such as a cup, ball, car, and puppy, to name a few.
- The baby can speak sentences with two to four words, making them capable of communicating through simple phrases, such as “papa come” and “car go.”
- The baby says the name of the objects or person instead of babbling.
- By the end of this phase, the baby establishes a vocabulary of several words and can also repeat words with better diction.
How To Respond When Your Baby Babbles?
Talk when they babble
- When the baby babbles, talk to them. You may speak to them about their surroundings, toys, or any other topic.
- Remember to pause so that they can listen to you and frame their response in the form of babbling.
- Keep the conversation going for as long as the baby wishes to babble. It could encourage the little one to initiate conversations in the future through babbling.
Observe the intent
- Observe the baby’s babbling to identify the intent of the sounds.Notice their gestures or expressions during babbling.
- When they babble and point to a toy, the babbling serves the purpose of expressing Therefore, react affirmatively to convey that their babbling is understood.
- Babbling might be meaningless if you hear it while the infant is occupied with their toys or while in the play gym. In such cases, the baby might be imitating the background sounds.
Imitate your baby’s babble
- If your baby mostly babbles to imitate background sounds and not with the intent of communication, you may join the imitation game to encourage babbling.
- First, identify the sound your baby might be mimicking in their babble. It could be the sound of a car’s horn, the bark of a dog, or other ambient sounds.
- If you identify the sound, mimic the sound along with the baby. It could help suggest to the baby that you understand what they are thinking and you think the same. It could help reinforce babbling as a good way to communicate.
- Even if your baby babbles without any intent of mimicking, babble along with them. Copying the babbling sounds might seem silly, but it helps stimulate their conversational skills.
- You may imitate any aspect of their babble, such as tone, and do so while facing the baby.
Act as your baby’s interpreter
- Make your baby believe that you understand their babble. This earns you their attention and would push them to indulge in more conversation.
- For instance, when the baby points out a toy, label it with a name, and say things such as, “Yes, that is the fluffy toy there,” or “Wow! You just discovered the Teddy bear.”
- If the child is babbling syllables, such as ‘pa,’ while looking at the door, reciprocate by saying, “Yes, papa will come soon.”
- Make everything a learning experience. For instance, if the baby babbles and touches their nose, interpret it by saying, “This is your nose ”or “Who’s nose is it?”
- Interpretation of babbling could help build the baby’s vocabulary and improve their language skills as they grow older.
How To Encourage Your Babbling Baby To Speak Words?
Speaking words is the stage that comes after babbling. You could try the following ways to stimulate the healthy transition from babbling to speaking words (5).
- Begin by teaching simple words, such as “Yes” and “No.” You could frame questions to which the baby may respond in “Yes” or “No.” For instance, if the baby is cranky, ask them questions, such as, “Does the baby want to go to the park?” or “Is my little one hungry?”
- Label or give names to the objects in their surroundings. If you see them looking at a car, bus, or cat, introduce their names by saying them to your baby.
- If the baby babbles a sound or a syllable, associate it with an object’s name that begins with the sound. For instance, if the baby babbles “buh,” ask the baby if they are looking for a ball, bus, bed, or a book. It could help the baby learn that certain sounds could help them communicate about specific objects.
- Read to your baby from books with pictures where you can point at illustrations and name objects. It makes for an entertaining activity to improve the baby’s language skills.
- Once your baby is close to their first birthday, you could teach them simple greetings, such as “Hi,” “Bye,” and “Thanks.” You could also encourage them to repeat simple words.
What If Your Baby Is Not Babbling?
If your baby does not babble at the age of four months, wait until they turn six months old. Most babies can babble from the age of six months. If your baby does not babble by the age of seven months, see a pediatrician. This is particularly important if the baby does not make eye contact or cuddle up to parents.
Do not panic if the baby does not babble since there could be many reasons behind it. According to experts, speech delays are temporary and common; one in five children learns to speak later than their peers (7). Discuss the possible causes with a doctor. A pediatrician would speak to the parents about the baby’s achievement of other milestones and take the child’s medical history. A diagnosis for an underlying reason may be required, depending on the factors or conditions noticed in the baby. Some babies may be subjected to hearing test, based on their assessment.
Babies usually may not babble due to hearing issues or problems related to hearing. The doctor may check for ear infections since frequent ear infections may interfere with the baby’s ability to listen. If ear infections are ruled out, you may be asked to consult a speech-language expert who can further analyze the probable cause and check for other speech delays. A baby may undergo speech therapy, depending on their age, the extent of speech or language delay, and other red flags in their behavior. Most babies would attain adequate requisite language and speech skills after successful therapy.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is considered late babbling?
Late or delayed babbling is when the baby does not babble by seven months. Delayed babbling may be an early sign of underlying developmental problems. Consult a doctor in such cases (8).
2. Do deaf babies babble with their hands?
Yes, congenitally deaf babies may often babble with their hands. The hand-based babbling is often a precursor to meaningful signs, just like verbal babbling is a precursor to speaking a language (9).
Baby babbling is the first step to talking, reciting, and singing. Babies usually babble as their language skills develop. Babbling should be encouraged as it teaches the child to form words, phrases, and sentences eventually. Babies may begin babbling from as early as four months of age. However, each baby may begin babbling at different times. Talking to them, reading them books, singing songs, etc., can help them learn to talk sooner. If you have any apprehensions regarding speech delay in children, do not hesitate to talk to your pediatrician or speech therapist.
- Babies may start making cooing or gurgling sounds by the age of two months, followed by babbling by four months of age.
- Babies attempt to express emotions and copy sounds they hear through babbles.
- You can respond to your baby’s babble by talking to them, imitating them, or acting as an interpreter, making the baby believe you understand them.
2. Important Milestones: Your Baby By Four Months; CDC
3. Important Milestones: Your Child By One Year; CDC
4. Important Milestones: Your Baby By Two Months; CDC
5. Lauren Lowry, Baby Babble: A Stepping Stone to Words; The Hanen Centre
6. Communication & Language Milestones; Help Me Grow
7. Language Delays in Toddlers: Information for Parents; American Academy of Pediatrics
8. Sigrun Lang et. al., Canonical Babbling: A Marker for Earlier Identification of Late Detected Developmental Disorders?; Springer Link
9. Sign Language; NCBI