Establishing a secure connection between the two of you depends on effective communication — so, you’ll need to recognise bubba’s subtle cues to be able to respond more effectively. These easily understood responses will instantly reward and renew your baby’s efforts, while the frequency and depth of your interaction skyrockets, even as your bond deepens.
Bonding strongly with your child operates on a chemical level, too: The release of the hormone oxytocin that occurs during a close moment between mother and baby can literally change your child’s life.
Your baby was born with an instinctive wish to interact with you and they’ll use all their senses to form a strong bond. So, listen to what they have to “say” and discover who this little person is. They are trying to make you out, too!
When your baby is born, they already have the skills to immediately recognise and bond with you. “A newborn is very quick to develop a relationship with their mother, who is usually their main means of survival,” says Dr Victoria Southgate, a developmental cognitive neuroscientist.
They can recognise your voice and hearing it soothes them, even when they are asleep. They also know your scent and the smell of your breastmilk. Use these senses to communicate with your baby with skin-on-skin contact and gentle chatter.
At birth, your baby’s vision is unfocused and they can only “see” up to a distance of 30cm. “Your baby can detect if you are looking at, or away from them,” Dr Southgate explains. “It’s important to them that you look at them.” They’ll recognise you by the shape of your head and your hairline — which is why they may be upset if you appear with your hair up!
They communicate mainly by crying, to prompt you into action and remove the cause of their discomfort.
Your baby was born with an instinctive wish to interact with you and use all his senses to form a strong bond.
After four weeks of life outside the womb, your baby has made huge strides in their ability to communicate. They can now focus their eyes and see details of your face. “A baby is intently interested in faces,” says Dr Southgate. “It's important if they’re going to learn vital skills such as language.” They’ll be happy to gaze at yours for minutes at a time — so let them!
They will also begin to smile purposefully now. Previously, their smiles will have simply been practice, but they now respond directly to you, in particular, to your voice. “All babies instinctively start to smile at a very similar age,” Dr Southgate notes.
“And if you support this early behaviour by copying it and smiling too, they’re likely to do it more. Most parents imitate their babies instinctively and that’s crucial to a baby’s learning.”
Watch carefully and you will notice, from around 6 weeks, your baby will start to open their mouth and move their tongue purposefully. They might also move their hands or arms at the same time. This is called “pre-speech” and is your baby’s latest communication skill.
“Recognise that your baby is trying to communicate with you,” says Dr Southgate, and talk back. This is crucial. Research shows that babies are not persistent. If you don’t respond, they’ll stop trying. And those babies will learn less than those who get an appropriate response.
They’ll also have started to make vocal sounds. At first, these will be vowel sounds such as “ooo” or “aaa”, and your baby may get upset if you don’t copy or respond to their efforts. They’ll listen intently to you — watch and you may see them move their body in time to your speech.
They have good control of their eye muscles now, so your face becomes far clearer. Don’t underestimate how much they still enjoy looking at it.
What comes next? Learn how baby learns to move and babble at you…
Physically, your baby is far stronger and use their body more. Take note of their behaviour and try to work out what it means. So, if they reach for an object, communicate that you understand by passing the object to them.
“Mothers who naturally tend to their babies’ communicative efforts are more likely to respond appropriately,” says Dr Southgate. “And their babies are more likely to learn faster.”
Your baby now hears the sounds you make distinctly and listens to them carefully. He’ll try to make the same sounds as you and will enjoy you repeating these back to him — your first conversation!
“It doesn’t matter what you say, as long as you talk back,” Dr Southgate explains. “It’s not just about teaching your baby words and their meanings. You’re also showing them that you are a social partner who will reliably respond to them in a predictable way — and that’s really important!”
By now, your baby is trying hard to get a handle on the tricky business of speech. They’ll often babble and make repetitive sounds, “speaking” in nonsensical “sentences” to mirror the way you talk.
“They understand that communication is a two-way process and will anticipate and expect your answer,” says Dr Southgate. They’ll have mastered all the vowel sounds by now, and about half of the consonants. Listen to this babbling and you’ll quickly be able to work out those that they know.
"Research shows that babies are not persistent. If you don’t respond, they’ll stop trying. And those babies will learn less than those who get an appropriate response."
As their speech develops, they’ll start to make recognisable sounds. “At first, these will be repetitions such as ‘ma-ma’ or ‘da-da-da’,” Dr Southgate says. “To support their learning, respond to your baby with the actual word you think they are trying to say, rather than repeating their babbling.”
They can see you from across a room now and will squeal and coo to get your attention. Respond to reward their efforts.
Usually on the move by this age, your baby will realise that they are a physically separate entity from you. “As your baby starts to become more independent, you might notice them looking back at you to check that what they’re doing is safe,” says Dr Southgate.
“If they were with mum, they wouldn’t need to worry — they know mum would make sure it was safe. But without her, they’ll look to check.” Notice these backwards glances and reassure or redirect them.
Their hearing is now well developed and they’ll respond to your voice, even if it’s very quiet. Make the most of this by chatting to them when you’re out of their sight. Their vision is nearly as good as an adult’s, so they can see and understand more of your body language. Their babbling will start to include more recognisable sounds and they’re aware of the power of communication, and are more likely to cry if you are nearby.
Finally, your baby is getting on for a year old — hurrah! What are they doing?
Your baby may well be able to say one or two words, and can follow simple commands, demonstrating that they understand what you say. “Babies understand way more than they can speak at this age,” Dr Southgate notes.
“Parents are often preoccupied with whether their baby is talking yet, but it’s comprehension that’s important. Babies who understand more at 1 year do better at academic assessments later in life.”
Now that their verbal skills are emerging, don’t forget to heed your baby’s body language too. Notice when they are pointing at an object — they may point with their whole hand rather than a finger, so it might not be obvious.
“This is a baby’s way of finding out the name of an object,” explains Dr Southgate. “Respond by telling them all about the object to help them learn. If you don’t respond, they’ll soon stop trying.”
“[Tell] them all about the object to help them learn. If you don’t respond, they’ll soon stop trying.”
Your toddler will now increasingly use language to fulfil their own needs.
“A baby acquires lots and lots of new words at this point, and it’s important to demonstrate that you understand what they’re saying, so they know they’ve got the right word. Show them they’re succeeding and using their language appropriately,” says Dr Southgate.
Pass them the toy when they ask for it. Tell them the name of the object they’re pointing at. Smile and say “thank you” when they blows you a kiss.
Don’t overrule them every time they say “no”, instead, ask him why they don’t want to do what you've requested. They’ll be delighted that you have listened and understood.
“But the single most important thing you can do is to keep talking to your baby.” Dr Southgate adds, “This gives them the best chance of developing their own language skills.”