New parents are always so excited for their baby’s first word. While babies generally start saying their first words around 12 months, everyone develops a little differently. Speech comes easily for some babies; for others it comes a bit slower.

“Speech is something we all do, usually without too much thinking or work,” says Jessica Smith, a speech-language pathologist who works with children at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center. “But when a child struggles to communicate, it quickly becomes frustrating to both the child and his parents.”

Fortunately, there are a few simple, everyday things we can do to help our little ones develop their speech and language skills, long before they are ready to say their first word. It’s easy to remember with ABCs:

  • Always talk with your baby
  • Be sure to track speech and hearing milestones
  • Communicate concerns with your baby’s pediatrician

Always Talk with Your Baby

The best way to help your baby develop a strong vocabulary: talk with her.

“We are wired to learn language through our ears,” says Carolyn Horton, an audiologist at Shady Grove Medical Center “Babies in their first year are just soaking up everything around them – the sights and the sounds.”

Here are a few simple ways to talk with your baby and expose her to a wide-ranging vocabulary:

  1. Describe the world around her, from the colors in her room to the animals in a book, and the trees and flowers outside.
  2. Read books. Reading for just 15 minutes everyday is one of the best ways to give your baby the building blocks she needs to develop speech. The stories, rhymes and pictures in books can help her develop a rich vocabulary and love of language that will last a lifetime.
  3. Play games. Babies love pat-a-cake, “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” and peek-a-boo.
  4. Sing songs and say nursery rhymes. The soothing cadence of many songs and nursery rhymes also help build your baby’s speech skills, long before she can even sing or say the rhymes with you.

Be sure to monitor speech and hearing milestones.

Parents are always quick to record their baby’s first words. Since speech and hearing go hand-in-hand, it’s important to monitor hearing milestones along with speaking.

Here are a few milestones to look for with your baby’s speech and hearing development:

  • Startles at loud sounds by 3 months
  • Babbles by 6 months
  • Waves hello or good-bye by 12 months
  • Follows simple, one-step commands by age 2
  • Hears you calling from a different room by age 4
  • Most people outside family usually understand speech by age 4
  • Tells a short story by age 5

You can get the complete list from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Communicate concerns with your pediatrician.

Discuss any concerns you have about your baby’s speech or hearing development with your pediatrician. A parent’s gut feeling is often more accurate than any checklist.

“I’ve been practicing for 30 years, and I still think that a parent’s concern is very important and should be taken seriously,” says Carolyn.

Your pediatrician may refer you to a speech therapist or audiologist for a comprehensive evaluation. For more information about Adventist HealthCare’s therapy programs, please call 240-826-7123.