Communication and Your 1- to 3-Month-Old

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Communication and Your 1- to 3-Month-Old

This is an exciting time for parents — babies this age make real progress toward communicating. During this period you will be able to engage your baby in two-way "conversations" — exchanging smiles and oohs and aahs.

Your baby's personality begins to become evident as he or she becomes a more active and alert member of your family.

How Babies Communicate

Crying continues to be a baby's primary means of communication for many months. Aside from letting parents know that they need something, they might cry when overwhelmed by all of the sights and sounds of the world.

Sometimes babies may cry for no apparent reason. As long as your baby is not sick or hurt, try not to get too upset if your baby cries and you aren't able to console him or her.

Your baby will respond to the sound of your voice by becoming quiet, smiling, or getting excited and moving his or her arms and legs. Babies this age begin smiling regularly at mom and dad, but may need some time to warm up to familiar people, like grandparents. Your baby probably won't smile and act friendly with strangers.

Babies now discover their ability to vocalize: Soon you'll have a cooing and gurgling machine! Some babies begin to make some vowel sounds, like "ah-ah" or "ooh-ooh," at about 2 months.

Your baby will "talk" to you with a variety of sounds; your baby will also smile at you and wait for your response, and respond to your smiles with his or her own. Your baby's arms and legs will move, and his or her hands will open up. Your baby may even mimic your facial expressions.

What Should I Do?

Your baby loves to hear your voice, so talk, babble, sing, and coo away during these first few months. Respond enthusiastically to your baby's sounds and smiles. Tell your baby what he or she is looking at or doing and what you are doing. Name familiar objects as you touch them or bring them to your baby.

Take special advantage of your baby's own "talking" to have a "conversation." If you hear your baby make a sound, repeat it and wait for him or her to make another. You are teaching your baby valuable lessons about tone, pacing, and taking turns when talking to someone else.

You are also sending the message that your baby is important enough to listen to. Don't interrupt or look away when your baby's "talking" — show you're interested and that your little one can trust you.

Babies this age seem to respond best to the female voice — the one historically associated with comfort and food. That's why most people will raise the pitch of their voices and exaggerate their speech when talking to babies. This is fine — studies have shown that "baby talk" doesn't delay the development of speech — but mix in some regular adult words and tone. It may seem early, but you're setting the stage for your baby's first word.

Sometimes babies aren't in the mood to talk or vocalize — even babies need their space and a break from all the stimulation in the world. Babies might turn away, closes their eyes, or becomes fussy or irritable. If this happens, let your little one be, or just try cuddling.

There might be times when you've met all of your baby's needs, yet he or she continues to cry. Don't despair — your baby may be overly stimulated, have gastric distress, or may have too much energy and need a good cry.

It's common for babies to have a fussy period about the same time every day, generally between early evening and midnight. Though all babies cry and show some fussiness, when an infant who is otherwise healthy cries for more than 3 hours per day, more than 3 days per week for at least 3 weeks, it is a condition known as colic. This can be upsetting, but the good news is that it's short-lived — most babies outgrow it at around 3 months of age.

Try to soothe your baby. Some babies are comforted by motion, such as rocking or being walked back and forth across the room, while others respond to sounds, like soft music or the hum of a vacuum cleaner. It may take some time to find out what best comforts your baby during these stressful periods.

If You're Concerned

Talk to your doctor if your baby seems to cry for an unusual length of time or if the cries sound odd to you. Your doctor will be able to reassure you or look for a medical reason for your baby's distress. Chances are there is nothing wrong, and knowing this can help you relax and stay calm when your baby is upset.

Babies usually reach these communication milestones during this period:

  • pay attention to faces and surroundings
  • smile at the sound of a parent's voice
  • smiles with social contact
  • coos and may start to babble
  • imitates some sounds and facial expressions

Keep in mind that babies communicate at different rates, just as they mature physically at different rates. There is usually no cause for concern, but talk to your doctor if your baby misses any of these milestones.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: October 2011

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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