When Do Babies Start Babbling?

Babbling is some of your baby's first sounds. Here's what they mean and why they matter.

The stay-at-home dad spends time during the day to play with his baby girl.

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A baby's first sound is usually a cry—something you'll hear often and at all hours of the night in those early days. "Mama" or "dada" make a sweet change of pace. But not to burst your bubble, the first time you hear your infant make a "mama" or "dada" sound, they're not actually saying the words "mama" or "dada," though it's an important step in that direction called babbling.

"Parents may not realize it, but babbling is a crucial milestone in a child's language development," says Vanessa Fagundo, M.S., CCC-SLP, a bilingual Spanish speech-language pathologist, early intervention specialist, and creator of Tiny Talkers Academy. "Babbling is a sign that a child is beginning to learn the sounds and rhythm of speech."

When do babies start babbling, and what should parents do if they're concerned? Here, experts give the low-down on babbling.

What Does Babbling Mean?

Babbling is the repetition of syllables or sounds that babies make, typically in the first few months of their life. It's a precursor to the development of language. Indeed, babbling is considered a "prelinguistic skill," says Fagundo, adding that it "helps babies develop the oral motor control necessary for speech production.”

Babies aren't just making noises for the sake of it when they're babbling. They're giving those little mouths a workout. "Babbling helps infants learn to control their vocal muscles and experiment with different sounds," says Fagundo.

Babbling is also an exciting milestone. "Even though babbling is not real words, babies will often use babbling as a way to communicate, and that's really exciting for parents to see," says Brooke Dwyer, M.S. CCC-SLP, a speech-language pathologist and co-creator of Speech Sisters.

When Do Babies Babble?

Most babies will start babbling between 4 and 6 months. It comes after single-vowel sounds referred to as cooing. Here’s a simple breakdown of the babbling timeline:

  • 2 months: Baby starts cooing 
  • 4 to 6 months: This is the babbling phase
  • 7 to 12 months: Babbles will become more speech-like
  • 12 months: Your baby may start saying some words

Unsure when your baby has gone from cooing the babbling? "Cooing is mostly just vowel sounds," says Dwyer. "This is when a baby is really starting to experiment with their voice. We mostly hear 'oohs and ahhs.' From that stage, babies will start to experiment with basic, easy consonant sounds, like Ms, Bs, Ps, and Ds."

After that, around 4 to 6 months—and not later than 9 months, says Dwyer—babies' babbling will really pick up.

What Are the Stages of Babbling?

Babbling progresses in stages as your infant grows and develops. "Knowing what to expect and when is important so you can help encourage your baby at an age-appropriate level to achieve the next step in the babbling process," says Brandie Shulman, M.S., CCC-SLP, TSSLD of Look Who's Talking LLC.

1. Marginal babbling/vocal play

Marginal babbling is the first phase of babbling, which usually begins between 4 to 6 months, explains Carly Tulloch, M.A., RSLP, CCC-SLP, a pediatric speech-language pathologist and co-founder of Wee Talkers.

"Often, it's just a single syllable to start, like 'bu,' 'ga,' or 'da,'" explains Tulloch. "Even though these sounds seem simple, this is a big stage of development for your baby, who is now engaging in what we call vocal play."

This vocal play may also include blowing raspberries or tongue clicks. "It's all a result of your baby being a little scientist," adds Tulloch.

2. Reduplicated babbling

Around about 7 to 9 months, babies will start to engage in reduplicated babbling. During this phase, your baby will begin repeating the same consonant. For example, "mamamama" and "dadadada," says Schulman.

3. Jargon

Then comes jargon babbling, which is even more complex. "They really experiment with all of these different consonant and vowel sounds," says Dwyer. "It sounds like they are having a conversation but not using real words.'"

It may sound like your little one has made up their own language, but sounds like "batamada" are completely normal, adds Dwyer.

How To Help Your Baby Babble

Phrases like “all babies do things when they're ready” are true, but parents can encourage babbling and potentially help their children along. Here's how to help your baby babble.

Show them how to talk

Though some babies will babble independently, Dwyer suggests a proactive approach. First, she advises adults to get on eye level with the infant. The idea that you're your baby's first teacher? It rings true here. The goal is to let the infant study your mouth.

"So much of them learning to make these sounds is seeing your mouth and what you do," says Dwyer. "You want to model babbling. Get face-to-face and babble at them. Wait a few seconds—you want to see if they will respond to you."

Don't get discouraged if it doesn't happen right away—keep trying through the day.

Reciprocate their conversation

Talking is a two-way street. Ready to have your first conversation with your little one? Now is the time. "When your baby starts babbling, be sure to stop, wait, and listen to everything they have to say," says Shulman.

Then, respond. Shulman gives three options:

  • Imitate them. Shulman says it teaches the concept of imitation and repetition.
  • Use real language, like "Oh really, what else did you do today?"
  • Replace sounds with what you think they might want to say, such as, "Oh, you want your baba" for "You want your ball." "This opens your little one's abilities to communicate and meet their needs as well as introduces them to conversational turn-taking and encourages more use of sounds," says Shulman.

Try some baby talk

Tulloch knows this one might feel silly—but baby talk, also known as "parentese"—is proven to speed up language development. "Parentese refers to that voice people tend to use when they speak to babies—rising tones, elongated vowels, exaggerated facial expressions," says Tulloch.

Research from 2021 suggests baby talk helps infants develop words—disproving the idea that "baby talk" delays language. But there's a caveat: “The most important thing is to use proper grammar and say the words properly. There are different types of baby-talk," says Dwyer. "There's the exaggerated, high-pitch speaking style, and then there's not saying the words correctly."

In other words, "Do you want a snaaaaack?" "Do you want to play with a baaaaaall" are helpful uses of parentese. "Do you want a snacky-snack and to play with the bally-ball?" are not.

Make music

You don't need to be Taylor Swift to have a sing-along with your baby. "Singing songs and reciting rhymes with your baby can be a fun and engaging way to promote babbling," says Fagundo. "Choose simple and repetitive songs and rhymes that your baby can learn and remember, and encourage them to join in by babbling along with you."

Narrate your life

You've probably heard that reading to your baby is a good idea—and it is. But you can also narrate your daily activities as a way to expose them to even more language. "For example, while changing a diaper, you can say, 'I'm going to lift your legs up now' or 'Now we're going to put on a clean diaper,'" says Fagundo.

When To Worry About Baby Babble

Milestones can be nerve-wracking for parents, especially if their child is on the later end of what's typical or not hitting them. On the other hand, there's also the idea that "all babies develop differently." True, but when is "differently" cause for concern?

"We really preach knowing what the communication milestones are and knowing the different age ranges," says Dwyer. "As long as your child is falling within the age range, that's OK. If they surpass that—say they are 10 months old and not babbling—that is a point when you want to talk to your child's pediatrician. It's always better to be proactive than reactive. It can't hurt to just get a second opinion."

Dwyer says the second opinion from your child’s health care provider is a good place to start. They may suggest a wait-and-see approach, but it should also include action, such as the tips to encourage babbling mentioned above.

But parents don't have to wait and see if they aren't comfortable—even if the pediatrician suggests it, adds Dwyer. Speech-language pathologists are experts in speech and parents are the experts on their babies. "If you feel something is not right, go with your gut,” says Dwyer. “It can never hurt to have your child evaluated by a speech-language pathologist."

A speech-language pathologist will evaluate your child for early intervention. This process is usually free and does not require a health care provider referral, but it can have long waits. Sometimes, getting ahead of the process and calling your county health department while waiting and seeing is a good option because Dwyer has seen parents wait up to six months for evaluations. "Get the ball rolling early," says Dwyer. "Things will go so much smoother."

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  1. Setting the Stage for Speech Production: Infants Prefer Listening to Speech Sounds With Infant Vocal ResonancesJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. 2021.

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