Because a baby's brain is constantly developing, connections in the brain will increase and become stronger each time he or she hears new words.
Has anyone ever told you how important it is to talk to your baby? Have you thought to yourself, "That's silly; my baby is too little to know what I am saying"? Even though babies can't answer back in conversation, that isn't an excuse not to talk to them. Studies have shown that the more you talk to your baby, the greater the chance he or she has of learning to speak and understand words.
As a mother of three and a nurse home visitor with Le Bonheur Nurse Family Partnership, I stress the importance of language development every day. I understand how awkward you may feel talking to a baby when he or she does not talk back. But once you understand how speech affects the brain's development, you can soon develop a daily habit of talking or reading out loud so your baby can enjoy your voice and build a better brain.
When you are pregnant, you can talk to your unborn child just as if you were talking to another person. Set aside time to read a book, a newspaper or a magazine out loud; your baby will begin to recognize your voice and you will benefit from the bonding experience. When your baby is born, his or her brain will be ready to learn language.
Speech is powerful. Because a baby's brain is constantly developing, connections in the brain will increase and become stronger each time he or she hears new words. These connections are responsible for learning.
A baby's brain makes most of its language pathways during the first three years of life. A 3-year-old's brain is twice as active as an adult's, so nurture your baby's growing brain by introducing music, books, pictures, voice and a nurturing touch.
Here are some more suggestions for talking with your baby:
Read every day to your baby. Even though babies may seem more interested in nibbling on the book, they are listening and learning.
Sing your favorite song or a classic lullaby. Your baby doesn't care what you sing; he or she just enjoys hearing your voice.
Narrate your daily activities. Talk about what you are doing as you wash, dress, feed and change your baby. "I am combing my hair." "Let's pour some milk." "Let's get your diaper changed." Your baby will begin to connect your speech to these objects and experiences.
Play many different types of music to expose your baby to different rhythms.
Don't use the TV as a babysitter. Talking to a real person is what makes the brain respond and grow.
When you talk to your baby, use a soft, gentle voice and smile. When your baby makes sounds, repeat them back.
As your baby's vocabulary begins to grow, encourage him or her to learn new words. Repeat names of things for your baby. When your baby points to something, for example, name the object and repeat it multiple times. ("Do you want your bottle? Here is your bottle.") Eventually, the baby will begin to say it, too. Your baby's desire to talk will increase as you continue to name, describe and explain things. Simple statements work best to encourage vocabulary growth.
Remember that you are your baby's first and most important teacher. Praise your baby for even the smallest attempts at baby talk. By offering your loving attention, your baby feels rewarded for trying to talk. Long before he or she can effectively speak, your baby will gain the ability to understand your words. Teaching your baby about his or her surroundings will provide the sense of mastery and confidence to keep learning. Talking to your child also shows mutual respect and builds trust. This connection is extremely important as you continue along your path as a family.
Jill Lewis is a nurse home visitor for Le Bonheur Children's Hospital Nurse Family Partnership.