Decoding Your Baby's Funny Little Noises and Sounds
Although your little one doesn't talk yet, they have a language of their own. Here's what those baby grunts, sounds, and noises actually mean.
Your Baby's Noises
Babies cry. A lot. After all, it's the best way they can communicate with you. But between the wails, you've probably noticed your infant trying out some other noises. "Babies are very social," says Prachi Shah, M.D., a developmental pediatrician at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. "Making different sounds is their way of connecting with you and telling you what they want and need." Those sometimes-wacky noises also signal that your baby is developing the skills required for talking. But what do the baby sounds mean? Our cheat sheet will help you decode their communication.
These high-pitched noises will get your attention every time. Squealing usually means your little one is delighted (like during a game of peekaboo), but it can also indicate that they aren't thrilled (think: the shriek they unleash when you cut their nails). So if the squealing doesn't stop, make sure they aren't in any discomfort.
To encourage your baby's newfound ability, try responding to what's inspiring their excitement: "Wow, you love it when Mommy blows bubbles!" They can't totally understand what you're saying yet, but they can pick up on your tone and notice your facial expressions. This kind of back and forth is one of the best ways to boost your baby's language development, says Dr. Shah. Using vocabulary to describe what your baby is experiencing will help them pick up words, understand their feelings, and learn the rhythms of conversation.
Baby Panting Sounds
You might notice that your baby "pants" for ten or so seconds before returning to normal breathing. This usually means they're learning how to regulate their breathing. Of course, a panting child might be alarming, especially to a new parent. Infants are still learning how to breathe through their mouth, so if it sounds like they're struggling, check for any crusty boogers that may be obstructing their nostrils. If you feel that they are really having trouble breathing or they are becoming discolored, call your doctor right away.
You might initially hear this guttural noise when your baby is having a bowel movement, but they may also grunt to relieve tension or express frustration or boredom. As your baby grows, their grunts may become demands. "Toward the end of the first year, your baby will grunt, with or without pointing, to indicate that she wants something she doesn't have the words for yet," says Roberta Golinkoff, Ph.D., professor of education, psychology, and linguistics at the University of Delaware in Newark. Pay close attention when you suspect that your infant isn't just letting off steam. If they see you responding to their requests, they'll understand that language can equal action.
Although this throaty noise isn't as common as some other baby sounds, many babies growl within the first six months...and it doesn't mean they're unleashing their inner animal. At first, it's just a reflex, like crying or gurgling. But your infant may start making growling sounds (grrr) on purpose because they like the feeling it produces in their throat, says Diane Paul, Ph.D., director of speech-language pathology for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
As your baby gets older, they may also growl to express displeasure, like when they don't want to be smothered in kisses by Aunt Gretchen or they're mad that you're not feeding them fast enough. Growling back will show them that you get it-and it's fun!
At around 4 months, your little one may surprise you with a small chuckle or a full-out belly laugh. Initially, chuckles and laughs are a physical response to something you're doing like tickling their knees or blowing air on their tummy. Later on, when your baby laughs at something external-like the look on your face when they fling food onto the floor-it means they're starting to develop a sense of humor, and they clearly find you amusing. Encouraging their newfound funny bone is easy: Just keep doing silly things.
Your child will start sighing naturally when they're just a few weeks old because it feels good and eventually because they like your reaction to it. In fact, sighing may actually serve a useful function: It can be your baby's way of relaxing and letting you know they're content. Try responding in kind, using different lengths and pitches and giving them time to imitate you.
Don't be surprised if you hear your baby engaged in a full monologue, in a language of their own. Babies start to babble at around 4 to 6 months, producing a steady stream of different vowel and consonant sounds that seem like they could be words but aren't quite there yet. Your child will start with the easiest sounds, like "p," "b," and "m," according to Diane Paul of ASHA. You'll hear a lot of "puh puh puhs" or "buh buh buhs" at first.
After your baby has more practice, you'll hear additional variety, and they may produce groups of sounds like "tah tah, ba ba, bee bee." These are the precursor to talking, so "muh muh" may become "mama" and "ba ba" may become "bottle."
There are lots of things you can do to help: When they pause, babble back. Try new sounds and pitches to see if they'll imitate you and make up babble songs. Being responsive will help teach them the patterns of speech and conversation.