Feeding your baby well, playing with him, talking (and listening) to him and, especially, cuddling him are all great ways to bond with baby. These exchanges also help to build a baby's brainpower. They are the foundation of your baby's relationship with you and his world -- and most of it comes totally naturally to new moms.
Moms are naturals at lots of things, and talking to their babies is no exception. Chances are, you already instinctively use "motherese," a way of speaking in which you raise the pitch of your voice and slow the rate at which you talk, exaggerating syllables and drawing out vowels. Widening your eyes and mouth while speaking gets your whole face into the act, and most babies find that fascinating. What you may not realize is that this kind of talk is actually helping boost your baby's brainpower -- and future learning abilities.
Here's how it works: Research shows that babies' brains develop by making new connections called "neural pathways." Every time you speak to your infant, those new pathways build the tot's mental foundation for learning other things. The more neural pathways that are developed -- and maintained -- early on, the more your child will be able to learn later.
Another natural occurrence you likely put into practice regularly is called "turn taking," where you pause to allow your baby time to process each message before the next one arrives. Even though the exchange may seem like more of a monologue, this way of speaking to baby is as if you're participating in a dialogue, and it lays the foundation for conversation later. In looking at videos of the art of mother-baby communication, it's clear that most moms naturally shorten messages and elongate pauses to the length of time that they imagine their baby's response would be, particularly when they ask a question. This is baby's earliest speech lesson -- and an important one because mom is shaping her child's ability to listen. Infants store this information and recall it later when they learn to talk. Rely on your instincts, and when in doubt, follow these guidelines for what I like to call brain-building baby talk.
Look At Your Audience Make eye contact with baby before beginning your "conversation." You'll be able to hold her attention longer and be more likely to earn an appreciative response. Make sure to address her by name. She may not associate the name with herself until later in the first year, but hearing it frequently will eventually trigger an association that indicates to her this is a special sound -- directed right at her!
Keep it Short and Sweet Use short sentences of four or five words, and one- or two-syllable words you can draw out, such as "preeetty baaaby." Babies obviously have short attention spans, so they're likely to tune out if you speak in long, rambling or monotone sentences.
Act it Out When you can, demonstrate what you're saying. If, for example, you say, "Wave bye-bye to the cat," show your baby what waving means. Infants are more likely to recall words associated with gestures.
Narrate As you bathe, change and dress your baby, give him an animated play-by-play: "Let's take off the diaper and wipe you off." It's normal to feel a bit foolish at first, but remember that you aren't talking to a wall; this little person has big ears and a developing brain that processes every word.
Give Chatter the New-Mom Spin Babies love nursery rhymes and poems with a sing-song cadence. When you can't take another round of Mother Goose, read your favorite magazine or book aloud, pepping up the story for your baby's ears.
Sing Your Heart Out Babies love familiar songs, so don't be surprised if your child wants to hear her favorites over and over. Even if you aren't an opera star, you'll have an admiring audience of one.