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People often anticipate their baby’s first words, but did you know that communication starts right from birth? It may not be words but your baby is already communicating so much (it just takes time to tune in!). Interestingly we focus on talking – but before talking comes understanding.

Baby communication milestones checklists can be a useful tool in checking where your child is at, as well as helping you know when your child may need a little extra help. We summarise the key stages and give some tips for supporting your baby’s speech and language within the first year.

Early baby communication milestones

From birth to 3 months

Babies have natural reflexes, such as crying, stilling, wriggling and smiling, which their caregivers respond to. These movements and sounds may not be intentional at this point, but we are shaping them to be by responding to them.

Top tip: Get to know your baby’s sounds and movements

By 6 months

Babies start to react to noises and learn the voices of their special people. You might notice smiles becomes less about the wind (we’ve all seen them!) and more about interacting with you. On the speaking side, baby may have found their voice, gurgling, babbling and squealing. They may even use these sounds to get your attention (often with perfect timing when the phone rings or when you’re about to jump in the shower!).

Top tip: Get ‘face to face’ with your baby and copy their sounds and facial expressions (the sillier the better!)

By 9 months

Your baby may be starting to understand very familiar words like ‘no’ and ‘bye-bye’. Stranger danger kicks in and babies may be looking for that familiar face, choosing your cuddles over that well-meaning neighbour or friend. Vocalisations will become more frequent and be coupled with gestures like reaching for an object, waving and clapping.

Top tip: Nursery rhymes are a great way to build understanding and anticipation of what will happen in a routine. Use sounds and gestures in play and routines. For example, try making up little songs for key routines like nappy changing.

By 12 months

Your baby will be understanding around 25 words by now for familiar objects, people and actions. They’ll start to use these objects meaningfully, for example, using a brush to brush their hair. Those babbles will turn into meaningful words. Don’t worry if they don’t sound perfect for now, they’re still learning. On average, first words come around 12-15 months. As long as a word is used with intent, consistently and in context, it’s a word! This includes signs, symbolic sounds (like ‘brum’ and ‘woof’), exclamatory words (like ‘uh oh’ and ‘wee!’) and approximations (like ‘nana’ for banana or ‘tat’ for cat).

Top tip: Comment on the things your child is interested in by naming them or something about them. For example, saying ‘tree!’ when your child points or vocalises.

Later baby communication milestones

  • Uses 16 gestures (like pointing, showing and waving) by 16 months
  • Uses around 20 words by 18 months
  • Uses 50+ words and joins two or more words together by 24 months

Remember, these are all approximate as we know that children all develop at different rates. If you are concerned about your baby’s communication at any point, please speak to a health professional like a health visitor or GP, or a qualified speech and language therapist. Seeking support and getting intervention early is key to supporting children’s communication skills.

Here at April Cottage Therapies, we are pleased to announce our online course for parents and carers of late talkers is also available here at bloss! If your child is between 12-36 months and you are concerned about their communication skills, you can find out more about how the course enables you to start supporting their communication from home here.