baby in the bath

Your baby may not be planning to tell you about their day over a cup of tea. But they will communicate a lot before speaking their first words. Here we talk about their body language, sounds and talking.

Stage one: From birth

From the minute they’re born, your baby is already interested in faces and voices and wants to communicate. They’ll recognise their mum’s voice from the womb and her face too after their first day in the world.

Encourage them by: Poking your tongue out or opening your mouth and letting them copy. This ‘turn-taking’ is basically your first conversation with your baby.

Stage two: Early week cues

You are your newborn baby’s world. And they’re trying their best to tell you what they need and what they’re feeling via cues and signals (Faure and Richardson, 2010).  

Encourage them by: Giving them lots of reassuring cuddles if they seem anxious. If they’re alert and happy, stimulate them with a black and white baby book or a soft rattle, perfect for newborns. Pick some up here at our Nearly New Sales.

Stage three: Sensory play

Your baby might use their sight and hearing the most but they are sensitive to touch and smell too (Murray, 2014). Touch should be very gentle to start with; your baby is only used to contact with amniotic fluid from the womb.

Smell-wise, your baby will be able to detect scent from birth (Sarnat et al, 2017). While they won’t mind their own nappy, they may not like the smell of the tasty meal you made last night. What they will know is the unique smell of your skin and that helps to tell them where you are (NHS Choices, 2018).

Encourage them by: Light stroking or tickling and, when they’re ready. Baby massage is such a lovely way for you to bond, spend time together and chill out. Click here for more info on baby massage.

Stage four: Telling you when they’re unhappy

Just because they can’t speak, it doesn’t mean things can’t still bother babies. Overstimulation from TV or busyness around them can lead to problems feeding or sleeping easily.

Watch out for signs of frustration like avoiding your gaze or jerky movements in their arms or legs (Murray, 2014). Equally, your baby won’t like quick movements nearby that may appear threatening so try to avoid jumping up in a panic if you’ve forgotten something.

Encourage them by: Keeping things as calm as possible at home and reassuring your baby regularly that everything is ok. Easier said than done, we know, especially if you have older children.

If your baby does start to complain, it’s worth taking time later to talk to them calmly, saying sorry for the upset and having a cuddle. It might feel strange – and they won’t know the words yet – but it can help them understand that arguments or stressful occasions will end (Sunderland, 2016). If you are feeling very low, a cuddle with your baby can work wonders for you both.

Stage five: Teaching them about words

Babies love to listen to their parents’ voices and they are particularly receptive to tone and rhythm (Murray, 2014). Sometimes they will even move their bodies in time with the adult’s speech. They also imitate facial expressions and start to learn how they’re related to the meaning of words.

Encourage them by: Lots of eye contact. It doesn’t matter which way you speak to your baby as long as they’re receiving warm, positive attention, with lots of eye-to-eye contact.

Stage six: And now it’s their turn

Until now, the noises you’ve heard from your child have mostly been cries telling you in the only way they have that they need something. As the months go by you’ll notice cooing then baby babbling. They’re all signs that you are gearing up for your baby’s first words (Hodapp et al, 1984).  

Encourage them by: Listening then responding so they know how conversations work. Taking turns making the sounds with them is key to your baby’s development.

Stage seven: Words, words, words

At around six to eight months, all of your hard communicating work will have paid off and you’ll finally start getting the cute ‘mama’s and ‘dada’s of the nappy adverts.

Encourage them by: ‘Scaffolding’. This means you’re building on what your child is saying. So that if they say ‘Dadadada’ you can say ‘Yes, there’s Daddy’ and your baby learns that those sounds they’re making can become words (Hodapp et al, 1984). Name the things they look at or are listening to and they’ll soon be chatting away with you about what happened today at nursery.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of our Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

To read more about your baby’s first words click here. 

Faure M, Richardson A. (2010) Baby sense. London, Metz Press. [Accessed 1st October 2017].

Hodapp RM, Goldfield EC, Boyatzis CJ. (1984) The use and effectiveness of maternal scaffolding in mother-infant games. Child Development. 55(3):772-781 Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6734317 [Accessed 1st October 2017].

Murray L. (2014) The development of children’s communication in the first two years: a research overview. Available from: https://www.nct.org.uk/sites/default/files/related_documents/Murray%20The%20development%20of%20children%C2%B9s%20communication%20in%20the%20first%20two%20years-%20a%20research%20overview%20pp%2015-20_0.pdf (NCT research overview) [Accessed 1st October 2017].

NHS Choices. (2018) A newborn hearing screening.  Available from:  http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/newborn-hearing-test.aspx [Accessed 1st October 2017].

Sarnat HB, Flores-Sarnat L, Wei XC. (2017) Olfactory Development, Part 1: Function, from fetal perception to adult wine-tasting. J Chid Neurol 32(6):566-578. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1177/0883073817690867 [Accessed 1st October 2017].

Sunderland M. (2016) What every parent needs to know. London: Dorling Kindersley. [Accessed 1st October 2017].

Talk to your baby. (2015) Why talking to babies and toddlers matters. Available from: http://www.talktoyourbaby.org/p/research.html [Accessed 1st October 2017].

Further reading

Best Beginnings. Talking singing and playing with your baby.  Available from:  https://www.bestbeginnings.org.uk/talking-singing-playing-with-your-baby [Accessed 1st October 2017].

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