Baby Speech Development: Here’s Everything First-Time Parents Need to Know

Shelley Masini
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    Speech and language are a significant part of a child’s development. As new parents, we eagerly await that first, magical word and how the parent-child bond that will flourish as their speech and language skills grow. We’re also anxiously assessing our child’s progress in these skills and wondering what we may or may not be doing correctly to help them. Let’s delve into the topic of baby speech development and get you the information and resources you need to understand, support, and enjoy this part of your child’s growth!

    In this article we will cover:

    Baby Talking Milestones

    Research has shown that babies are already learning aspects of communication, such as the beats and rhythms of language, while in the womb. And from the moment they’re born, they’re trying to communicate with us, with cries and coos and gestures. But how and when does this become words and language they will eventually come to use as grown children and adults?  While every child develops at their own rate, most children reach the same stages of speech at around the same time. These accomplishments are called milestones. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define milestones as “things most children do by a certain age,” and it is these milestones which pediatricians and speech-language pathologists use to monitor your child’s development. The milestones help demonstrate receptive (hearing and understanding) and expressive (speech) progressions, and are measured through a child’s ability to learn and speak, as well as observed play, action and movement. Parents should be familiar with milestones, but also remember they are guidelines, not hard and fast rules. Below are some of the age-specific baby taking milestones your child will reach between birth and the age of 3, the years when speech and language development are most intense. For more comprehensive information, consult the detailed charts found at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).

    Birth to 1 year  

    • Uses coos, cries, sounds, and gestures to relay needs
    • Responds to sounds, recognize voices and smiles
    • Comes to understand “no,” simple one-word directions, and their own name
    • Starts to imitate adult speech sounds
    • By age one will have said their first word and have a vocabulary of 1 - 3 words

    1 - 2 years

    • Imitates and repeats one-word phrases
    • Can follow more complex commands and will start to make more and more requests verbally
    • Vocabulary will start with 3 - 20 words and after about 18 months will jump up to 50 - 100 words
    • Will learn all their body parts over the year
    • See Baby Talking Milestones: A Guide for Parents with Kids Aged 1-2 Years Old for more milestones during this time period

    2 - 3 years

    • Will follow complex, two-part directions
    • Asks questions and uses words to request items they want
    • Goes from using single words to speaking in phrases made up of 2 - 4 words
    • Will have a vocab explosion, from 50 - 250 words

    How to help your baby with speech development

    What gets our children from one milestone to the next and how can we help?Language develops best in an environment filled with new sights, sounds, guessed it...lots of language! If you’re talking, singing, playing and reading with your baby, you’re already on the right track. Here are more ideas and tools you might use to help your baby with speech development.

    Talk...all the time!

    Talking is the number one thing you can do to help your baby with speech development. It may feel awkward at first, talking constantly to someone who isn’t yet talking back, but here are some tips. First, focus on the fact that you’re actually having a conversation with your child. They are taking in everything you’re saying and actually communicating in response, even if just with gestures. Second, tell them about your day and what you’re doing, but also take note of what interests them, catches their eye, and talk about those things. Finally, even though they may only be able to babble back, give them a chance to respond. All of this teaches them thousands of vocabulary words as well as the natural rhythm and flow of conversation.

    Keep it interactive!

    A conversation takes two, and learning how to converse requires the same. Avoid television and iPads. The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) highly cautions against any screen time for children under 2 years of age for the very reason that it’s just not interactive enough to properly teach speech and language. Instead, turn to music, songs, reading, counting, outings to library storytimes and children’s museums and playdates, to engage your child. You might find that helping your baby with speech and language development is more fun than you anticipated.

    Try baby sign language!

    Baby sign language, which is a simpler version of signing than ASL (American Sign Language), uses signs, or simple gestures, to convey everyday words and has become very mainstream in modern parenting. Not only does signing decrease frustration for babies and parents as it allows them to communicate before babies can speak, according to the research of baby sign language inventors, Linda Acredolo, Ph.D. and Susan Goodwyn, Ph.D., babies who sign have faster speech and language development than other children. Just remember that the signs should not replace words or speaking! Baby sign language is a tool to be used with constant talking. See our article, Teach Your Baby Sign Language to learn more and get started signing today!The key to children’s speech development is consistency, repetition, fun, and encouragement. Babies are no different than adults. Retention is better when we have the opportunity to see and hear information over and over and in different ways. And we all do better at any endeavor when we’re having fun and receiving positive reinforcement! All the tools mentioned will not only help your child with their speech and language development but will also keep you in touch with how they’re doing. For even more ideas, read Ten Simple Strategies to Help Your Baby Develop Speech.

    When not to worry

    You have your list of baby talking milestones and you’re making a daily effort to help your baby’s speech development. Now what? Oftentimes, uncertainty and questions crop up as you compare your child’s progress to that of other children or read articles giving well-meaning advice on exactly where your child should be in their speech development.Speech and language development is not exact. Every child is different and begins talking on their own timeline. Some children will move through the milestones quickly, others as if on cue, and still others a little slower. None of these paths are better or worse than the other. The milestones are there as guidelines, not to dictate but to guide and support you and your child on this journey. They should be used with your child in mind and added insight and input of your child’s physician. This is the time to try to focus on the joy of watching your baby’s language develop while not overthinking or over-worrying. Try to note progress in the right direction, keep your baby engaged in the learning of speech and language, and remind yourself that there is no box that all children fit into. By being involved in and observant of your child’s development, as well as aware of the milestones, you will instinctively know if and when development seems more stalled than slow, and when it might be time to consult your child’s physician.  

    When there might be a speech delay

    Speech delay is a fear of many parents, so let’s better understand what this term means and what can be done to help your baby should it occur.What is commonly referred to as a “speech delay” often implies any delay in a child’s language or speech development, not just their talking but their overall communication skills. They are meeting the milestones just not at the age most other children seem to be. Speech delays are not uncommon. In fact, according to the AAP, one out of 5 children learn to talk or use words later than expected. And a speech delay does not necessarily mean that your child has a speech or language disorder, nor that your child will need any medical treatment. The first thing to do when you notice or suspect a delay is to schedule an appointment with your child’s physician. They will already be monitoring your baby’s overall development as part of regular well-baby check-ups, but always appreciate parents bringing concerns and observations to their attention. After all, you spend the most time with your baby and know them best! If your child does not need medical treatment and is simply what is called a “late bloomer,” their doctor may give suggestions on additional tactics to try to help develop speech. Often with a little extra support and encouragement, “late bloomers” catch up with other children by the age of three.Sometimes, however, a speech delay may denote a more serious, medical condition, such as:

    • Oral impairment, or physical issues with the tongue or mouth
    • Oral-motor problems, or a problem with the part of the brain responsible for the muscles in the mouth
    • Hearing problems

    Your child’s physician will most likely order a hearing test to check for hearing problems. They may also refer your child to a specialist, such as an Audiologist to help identify and manage hearing problems, and/or a Speech-Language Pathologist to help with any speech or language problems.It can be upsetting to learn your child has a speech delay. Know that there are lots of treatments and educational programs to support them. Become familiar with Early Steps, Florida’s early intervention program to support learning for children up to age three, as well as what special education services your child’s school may offer if they are school-going age. Also, learn about the Individuals with Disabilities and Education Act (IDEA) which guarantees a public education for all children with a disability. Often even those speech delays that require medical treatment and specialists can be resolved well enough for your child to go onto lead a healthy, happy life full of conversation and communication with others.For more information, refer to our article on Toddler Speech Delay.

    A word about bilingualism

    Many parents raising their children bilingual fear this will cause a speech delay. While children do sometimes experience an initial delay in speaking one or both languages, there is no evidence that bilingualism causes speech delays. The child’s brain is simply (or rather, not so simply!) working twice as hard to learn two languages. Most children soon overcome an initial silent period and start speaking both languages along with the same timelines of children who speak one language. Focus on progress over perfect adherence to the milestones, and to count words from both languages when assessing your child’s total words.A great resource parents of bilingual parents is the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).


    Speech and language development is a complex part of our child’s growth and requires our attention and support. As parents we may find ourselves feeling particularly anxious to ensure our baby is progressing as they should. While this is natural, it is also important to allow yourself to experience the joy and excitement of this time, as your child blossoms and you are able to communicate more and more together. By taking the time to learn about baby speech development, hopefully you will feel better prepared to support your baby and able to enjoy this amazing time in their young lives.You may always consult your child’s physician with any questions, and the pediatric team at Blueberry Pediatrics are available 24/7 to consult on this or any other areas of concern.