One of the most miraculous accomplishments during this second stage of infancy is your baby's ability to vocalize his emotions. During his earliest weeks of life, crying was the only way he could get your attention. By four months, most babies "become eager communicators," says Dr. Greenspan. He may start "talking" by babbling open vowel sounds, like "aah" and "ooh." Gradually, as he experiments with using his teeth, tongue, and vocal cords, he'll make lots of funny noises, blow raspberries, and add consonants to his repertoire of sounds. The first are generally p, b, and every mother's favorite, m, so that it might sound like your baby is calling "Ma-ma!" Dads may feel disheartened not to hear "Da-da," but this is just a function of speech development -- sounds that require the tongue and muscles deeper in the mouth come later.
This babbling isn't just a random collection of sounds but repeated attempts by your baby to move her lips, tongue, and jaw to make the same sounds she hears. By the time your baby hits the half-year mark, she will have heard hundreds of thousands of vowel sounds, developing a sort of "sound map" in her brain that helps her hear and repeat those sounds more clearly in the future, according to University of Washington researcher Patricia K. Kuhl, PhD. What's more, as an infant repeatedly hears his native language, he develops perceptual strategies increasingly dedicated to processing this particular language. For example, in early infancy, your baby may hear sounds in other languages that we cannot even detect. But as the months wear on and he tunes in to the rhythms and patterns of his own language, he stops hearing the sounds that he doesn't need to replicate so that he can focus better on the ones he really needs to know.
Learning to Speak
How can you ensure that your baby is learning language, if she is not actually speaking any words? Again, relationships are key. Not surprisingly, researchers have found that infants of 4 to 6 months who have people speaking to them frequently are apt to learn language faster than those who don't. Talk to your child often, and listen when he talks to you. There's no need for tapes or fancy learning gadgets; you can look at a book together and talk about the pictures, tell him your plans for the day as you change his diaper, and point out interesting sights as you go for walks in the stroller.
"The most stimulating experiences for young babies come from human interaction," stresses Joshua Sparrow, MD, a child and general psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School. "Nothing else can equal the complexity of the human voice or body language."
An Emerging Personality
Now that your baby is out of that fussy newborn phase and more alert and responsive, you can start looking for clues as to what type of baby you have, as his unique personality begins to emerge. Child development experts use nine basic traits, which are inborn, to describe temperament. Some of the easier ones to discern in babyhood include regularity (whether he tends to be hungry and sleep at the same time every day), adaptability to change, sensitivity, activity level, and distractibility. For example, if you have a sensitive baby, he's more likely to become overstimulated by noise and lots of people around him. A less sensitive baby may be the life of the party as he's passed from one adoring relative to another. To assess your baby's temperament, keep track of his reactions to daily routines. Does he relax in his infant seat, or kick his legs nonstop? Does he cry when the smoke alarm goes off, or is he just curious? Then you can tailor your parenting style accordingly -- and discover how best to have fun with him and deepen your relationship.