Birth to 6 Months
Birth to 3 Months
What your baby is doing: Babies are born to listen. The younger the child, the more hearing is the dominant sense, studies show. A newborn is able to distinguish all the sounds of all the world's languages. She spends the first months tuning in to the sounds of what will become her native tongue. She'll begin to associate sounds, linking the family dog to a bark, for example. Her first communication will be crying, but she'll soon begin to use her tongue, lips, and palate to make gurgles, oohs, and aahs.
What your baby can understand: Babies as young as 4 weeks can distinguish between similar syllables like "ma" and "na." As young as 2 months, they begin to associate certain sounds with certain lip movements.
Things you can do to help: Look at your baby. Respond when your baby makes a sound; give her the idea that what she says matters. Play games with your voice: Change the speed, pitch, and intonation of what you say.
What to watch: Although the National Institutes of Health has made universal newborn hearing screening a goal, standards vary from state to state. As many as 3 out of 1,000 newborns have significant hearing impairments. If your state does not test at birth, get your baby screened.
4 to 6 months
What your baby is doing: Sighs give way to random babbling. He won't get control of all the muscles that contribute to speech for several years, but he'll master the muscles toward the back of the tongue and the lips first. You'll hear back-of-the-tongue sounds, such as g and k, and lip sounds m, w, p, and b.
He keys into your language's patterns and notices which syllables tend to go together, or which sounds are most common. He focuses on familiar words, his own name, or "mommy" and "daddy" as clues to help break up sentences.
What your baby can understand: At 4 1/2 months, he may recognize his name, but only as an important word, such as "Hi!" or "Bye!" It's not until 6 months, at the earliest, that he'll realize his name actually refers to himself.
Things you can do to help: Play gentle blowing games. Help your baby feel the sensation of air coming out of his mouth. Imitate animal sounds like "moo" and "bah." Play peekaboo. Help your child identify noises: "That's the vacuum" or "Hear that big truck?"
What to watch: If your infant suddenly stops babbling, have your pediatrician check his ears for any significant hearing loss that may have been caused by an ear infection.