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03 Jul

20038aLong before your baby utters his first word, he will speak by babbling. These adorable, non-sensical sounds are actually his way of making sense of using his voice box, mouth and breath to form sounds. It’s practice for speech, which is a precise skill not only requiring hundreds of muscles to work together, but also the coordination of breathing, voice, articulation and resonance—all at lightning speed. Incredible!

The foundation for speech begins with crying and cooing, and moves through predictable stages of babbling.

The Stages of Babbling

The evolution of babbling roughly follows the timeline below. The most important thing is that these stages occur in order. If your baby is lagging far behind, your pediatrician or a pediatric speech-language pathologist can offer guidance.

  • Months 0-2: Cries & Coos

During this stage, your baby communicates that he’s hungry or uncomfortable through crying. He coos and sighs, and begins to make sounds that require his voice box to vibrate, like gurgles.

  • Months 3-4: “I’m Talking to You, Mom!”

As he begins learning to coordinate his lips and tongue, your baby makes simple speech sounds (goo) and directs them at you or objects. Engaging him by babbling or talking back encourages eye contact and simple imitation of sounds.

  • Month 5: First Babbles

Simple babbling begins with single-syllable speech sounds, like ba, da and ma. Your baby experiments with volume, tone, pitch and intensity. Life gets noisy as he squeals, yells, growls, and blows raspberries.

  • Months 6-7: Reduplicated Babbling

True babbling begins with reduplicated babbling. This will sound like ba-ba or na-na. Your heart may explode when he says ma-ma, but actually understanding what he’s saying comes later. Towards the end of this stage, increased coordination and control of his mouth and voice box opens the door to clear sounds and more defined articulation and resonance. He says the same syllable over and over (ba ba ba ba), and mimics turn-taking as if he’s having a conversation.  

  • Months 8-9: Variegated Babbling

Your baby begins variegated babbling, or mixing different sounds (ba de da). He also attempts to imitate noises produced by objects. If you build him a block tower and knock it down, he may say boom! He may also shake his head and say no.

  • Months 10-11: Jargon

Your baby begins speaking in jargon by using complex babbling dotted with a few simple words: baba da ma ball da. This jargon is adorably animated as he imitates inflection, conversational rhythm, facial expressions and gestures.

  • Month 12: Drum Roll…First Words!

Starting around now and continuing for several months, real words gradually take over. At this stage he has about 3 words that he uses correctly, although his receptive language (what he understands) is much further along.

How to Encourage Babbling

Introduce different types of solid foods at the right times. Your baby uses the same oral muscles to speak as he does to eat. Each time he graduates to a new category of solid foods, he uses his oral muscles in stronger, more coordinated ways. This, in turn, helps him make more complicated speech sounds.

Shelf the pacifier when your baby is awake, alert and fed. Pacifier-free time will allow for plenty of babble practice.

Babble back! Aside from building important pathways in your baby’s brain, a recent study found that responding to your baby’s babbles in a meaningful way can have profound positive effects on his language development. Key takeaways from the study were to make eye contact, respond enthusiastically, and label and elaborate on what your baby is babbling about. If he babbles at a car, say: “Yes, that’s a car! It goes vroom vroom.”

For more about the benefits of engaging in conversation with your baby, long before his first word, see our article Babble Back: How Meaningful Responses to Babbling Boost Language Skills.

26 Jun

20037aWith toys named after famous geniuses, baby-friendly smartphone games, and baby classes galore, raising a smart baby may seem like a sophisticated and expensive task.

The truth is, science does not support claims that certain toys, electronic activities and classes boost intelligence (IQ). What science does support is the idea that intelligence depends on a mix of genetic and environmental factors, and moving the needle may be simpler and less expensive than you think.

How You Can Give Your Baby a Smart Start

  • Develop a Secure Attachment

Secure attachment is linked to higher IQ (as well as many other benefits) and is characterized by a reliable, responsive and warm relationship between a baby and her primary caregiver(s).

  • Interact Often

As part of healthy attachment, responding to your baby’s cues to interact can boost her intelligence. Engage consistently in meaningful back-and-forth with her through facial expressions, gestures, sounds, words, actions and play.

Interestingly, research has shown that in families with more than one child, the oldest tends to have a higher IQ. Researchers think this may be because parents often spend more time inter-acting with their first babies before siblings divide their time.

Research also shows that playing interactive games that promote executive functioning can, in turn, enhance intelligence.

  • Talk to Your Baby, Long Before Her First Word

Language skills are correlated with IQ, so talk and read to your baby as often as you can right from the start. A large part of language is receptive language, or what we understand, and this develops sooner than expressive language, which includes words. From the beginning, your baby is listening to you and acquiring receptive language. Those early monologues are valuable for your little audience of one!

Research shows that thoughtfully responding to your baby’s babbles and first words can boost her language skills as well. For example, if you’re driving and she says, “Cah!” You can respond by saying, “Yes, that’s a black car! It’s going fast. Vroom, vroom.”

  • Feed Your Baby Nutritious Food

A nutrient-dense diet in early life has been linked with higher intelligence. For premature babies at risk of lower IQ, a nutrient-dense diet containing zinc, iron, folate, iodine, B12 and protein has shown to reduce those effects. There was even a study showing that 3 year-olds who ate a significant amount of processed food had lower IQs at age 8 than their same-age peers who ate diets rich in fruits, vegetables and fish.

  • Encourage Music

Introducing music to your baby has many benefits, including supporting IQ-related brain functions. Listen to music with your baby, sing and dance with her, and include a set of toy instruments in her playthings.

We may never know whether nature or nurture carries more weight in determining intelligence, but all of these suggestions may play a role in enhancing it. What’s more, each of them can positively affect other areas of your baby’s development as well.

21 Jun

20036aWhen you think of a creative person, a painter, composer or novelist likely comes to mind. We don’t always associate creativity with an executive who restructures a company, a doctor who solves a medical mystery, or a mother who develops a way to stop her son’s tantrums in their tracks. Creative thinking is a quality many people possess, and is associated with originality, flexibility, problem solving, innovation, exploration, self-esteem and motivation.

Creativity isn't something your baby is either born with or without. It can be nurtured, and you can start today! Here are some ways:

Allow Plenty of Unstructured Free Play

Baby classes, stroller running clubs and play dates are mainstays in modern life. As a new parent, especially if you're home with your baby, these activities can save your sanity! It can be easy, though, to over-schedule your days. Allowing for free play and art is crucial to creative development. Creativity blossoms when children have the freedom to explore and try new and different things.

While interacting with your baby in meaningful ways is the single most important aspect of his development, giving him some solo play time has benefits too. While you observe for safety, try setting your baby free to gravitate towards things he’s interested in. This will start with tummy time, when you can place several objects around him. As he becomes mobile, he will love traversing the house and finding things to play with—often everyday objects like the shoelaces on your sneakers.

A note about pretend play: When he is about 18 months old, your baby’s imagination will blossom as he enters the exciting world of pretend (symbolic) play. Research has shown that this play is directly linked to a child’s future capacity for creative thinking, so encouraging this play is key.

Create Toys With Everyday Objects

Aside from your sneakers, your baby will love to bang on a cardboard box with a wooden spoon, or shake a maraca made by filling an empty plastic bottle with dry beans. Seasoned parents will tell you that the food storage container cabinet is a wonderland for babies. They make a giant mess on the kitchen floor, but all the nesting, stacking and problem solving (which lid fits on this container and how do I get it on?) is creative fuel.

Let Your Baby Play With Things The “Wrong” Way

Maybe he holds a toy spoon to a stuffed bear’s foot and pretends to feed it, or he turns a toy car upside-down and pushes it on the floor. Instead of correcting him, try something like: “Oh, look! Your bear has a mouth on its foot!” This encourages him to think outside of the box—one of the hallmarks of creative thinking.

Embrace Mistakes

While learning to master different tasks, your baby will miss the mark. Whether it’s stacking rings or (down the road) learning to write letters, teach him that mistakes are part of the process and okay. Part of creativity is taking risks, and studies show that kids who are afraid of failure take fewer risks.

Expose Your Baby to Varied Sensory Information

Encourage creative risk-taking by allowing your baby to get messy during play and art activities. Spark his senses by taking him outside often, where light, shadow, changing temperatures and varied textures abound.

It’s more important than ever to nurture your baby’s creativity from the start. Research shows that American creativity has declined since 1990. The study’s author, Kyung-Hee Kim, suspects this may be the result of factors like strict gender roles, too much structure, and not allowing kids time and space to release creative energy. Remember that all babies have the capacity for creativity, so let yours explore and experiment as much as possible (especially if he gets messy in the process)!

16 Jun

20035aJust as the top executive at a busy, successful company keeps everything organized and running smoothly, executive function skills allow us to focus, plan, accomplish tasks, control impulses, and manage emotions. It is a set of cognitive skills with a big job—to help us effectively and efficiently understand, control and use the constant streams of information running through our brains.

Executive function is not present at birth, but babies are born with the potential to acquire it. Although it develops into adulthood, experts agree that ages 0-5 are a critical time for laying its foundation. This time in your baby’s life is fertile ground because her brain is being shaped by her experiences.

Before we explore ways to support your baby’s executive function development, let’s take a closer look at what it is.

The Three Pillars of Executive Function

Executive function includes three types of interrelated brain function:

  • Working Memory — The ability to keep and use information.
  • Mental Flexibility — The ability to sustain attention or shift gears.
  • Self-Control — The ability to prioritize choices, resist temptations, and think before speaking or acting.

These three functions work together to help us:

  • Initiate — Begin tasks and generate ideas.
  • Plan — Map out how to accomplish present and future tasks.
  • Organize — Place objects in our physical space in a functional way.
  • Be Self-Aware & Self-Monitoring — Adjust our behavior to fit a situation, and understand the effects of our behavior.
  • Control Emotions — Use rational thought to manage our emotions.

Supporting Your Baby’s Developing Executive Function

Laying the groundwork for executive function will give your baby the best shot at mental and physical health, healthy relationships, and success in school and the workplace. Research has even shown that executive function is a better predictor of academic success than IQ or knowledge of letters or numbers.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Create and Maintain a Reliable, Supportive Relationship with Your Baby
    Consistent, warm responsiveness and interactions are a hallmark of a healthy childhood and set a baby up for success in every area of her life, including executive function. Your relationship with your baby not only helps shape her brain, it allows you to model executive function skills like how to behave in different situations and cope with stress.
  • Encourage Pretend Play
    Pretend (or symbolic) play gives your baby endless opportunities to practice executive function skills as she organizes objects, plans and completes tasks, and explores behavioral and emotional themes.
  • Support Age-Appropriate Independence
    When your baby is ready, allow her to do things like feed herself, put on her clothes, and help put away toys.
  • Play Games
    The Harvard University Center on the Developing Child suggests these executive function-promoting games for babies ages 6-18 months. You can find other fun activities in the cognitive development section of our BabySparks app.

Lap Games
Peek-a-Boo, Pat-a-Cake and the like support working memory and self-control.

Hiding Games
These exercise working memory. You can start with simple versions, like covering a toy with a blanket and letting your baby find it, and make them more challenging as she matures.

Imitation Games
Showing your baby how to do something and waiting for her to copy you involves attention, working memory, and self-control. This starts simply with actions like waving goodbye, and becomes more complex as she grows and copies actions like placing rings on a stacking pole.

Role-Play
Towards the end of this age range, you can engage your baby in role-play, like sweeping the floor or feeding a stuffed animal. This is the beginning of symbolic play and exercises working memory, self-control, and selective attention.

Fingerplays
Fingerplays like Itsy-Bitsy Spider support self-control and working memory.

Conversations
Before your baby can actually speak, you can “talk” to her by answering her coos or babbling, mirroring her facial expressions, or labeling things she points at. All of this exercises her attention, working memory, and self-control.

By nurturing your baby’s executive function development in these early years and beyond, you will set her up with life and learning skills that will serve her in every area of her life.

11 Jun

20034aAround the time your baby learns to crawl, she will begin experimenting with pulling up to stand. Eventually she will be able to stand up on her own—quite an accomplishment considering how much strength, coordination and balance it takes to get her body into a vertical position and stay there! It’s the foundation she will need to walk, but before we get excited about walking let’s shine a light on this exciting milestone.


When Do Babies Stand?

Generally, between 8-10 months, babies experiment with using furniture or other fixed objects to pull to standing. Between months 11 and 13, most babies are able to stand up on their own and remain standing. All babies are different, so check in with your pediatrician if you’re worried about your baby’s development.

How Does Standing Develop?

As an infant, your baby will “stand” on your lap and you may think you gave birth to a future superhero. In reality, this is called the positive support reflex, which will disappear by 6 months. This reflex allows her to push against things (like a swaddle, car seat or your lap) and begins to strengthen her leg muscles.

By 6 months your baby will be able to use her legs to bear some weight, and will bounce up and down while you hold her on your lap.

Around 8 months, if you place your baby standing next to the couch, she may be able to remain standing—likely leaning her body against it and hanging on tightly.

Between 9-10 months, your baby will feel more comfortable standing while holding onto furniture, and she’ll start experimenting with using it to pull herself up. She will spend many hours practicing lowering herself to sit, which at first involves bending her knees and a diaper-cushioned drop to the floor.

The period between 11-13 months is standing prime time. Your baby will graduate to holding onto the couch with one arm instead of two, switching arms, transferring weight from one side of her body to the other, and eventually letting go and standing by herself. She will also learn to stand up without pulling up on furniture, and she’ll perfect the art of lowering herself to the floor in a controlled way.

Standing and Sensory Motor Development

Pediatric Physical Therapist Andrea Hayward, MSPT, DPT points out that independent standing up and sitting back down requires tremendous motor control, which encompasses strength, coordination and balance. All of your baby’s gross motor development thus far has prepared her for this task by strengthening her muscles and ability to effectively balance her body and use its parts to achieve purposeful movement.

Being in a vertical position is a significant step in the development of your baby’s internal (vestibular and proprioceptive) senses, which are responsible for balance and coordination. During tummy time, rolling, sitting and crawling, her entire body has been close to the ground. Now that she’s standing, her upper body is further from the ground than ever before, and the way she balances and moves her body while upright is vastly different.

Standing and Vision

Researchers from New York University attached cameras to babies’ heads in order to study what they see while crawling compared to walking. The researchers found that when babies crawl, they tend to look down at the floor in front of them. This helps develop the inward movement of both eyes to focus on nearby objects.

In contrast, independent upright positions like sitting and standing help develop visual perception because babies have visual access to distant objects. Standing introduces babies to new visual terrain. When they stand up, the same room they’ve been crawling in looks totally different. “New visual information about the environment, along with the new body position create a dynamic and motivating challenge for babies,” Hayward says. “They must figure out how to get where they want to go in this new world.”

Encouraging Your Baby to Stand

Most babies are intrinsically motivated to stand. It’s a nice view from the top! If you want to help your baby practice, try one of the fun standing activities on our BabySparks app.

Hayward points out that equipment like activity centers, jumpers and others that support your baby in a standing position may actually hinder the development of this milestone, as they restrict the natural strengthening of her muscles and movement of her hips. Hayward stresses that above all, giving her lots of time to move freely is the most important thing you can do for all gross motor development: “Opportunity leads to practice, and practice leads to mastery.”