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Baby Steps: Babble On

Q  My 5-month-old daughter isn't babbling yet, and some of my friends' babies around the same age are. Should I be worried?

A Babbling is when babies utter a string of consonant-vowel sounds, such as ba-ba-ba or ma-ma-ma (it's sometimes called "reduplicated babbling," if you want to show off for your friends). In general, it begins when a baby is anywhere from 6 to 10 months old. Remember, this is an average guideline, and there is enormous variation in babies as to when milestones are actually achieved. Has she conquered other 5-month milestones such as smiling, quieting down when she hears your voice, and reaching? Even if she's not babbling, is she vocalizing in other ways by gurgling or cooing? If so, there's no need to worry about whether or not she's babbling yet.

But even though she's young, there are still plenty of things you can do to enhance your daughter's language development. Talk to her on a regular basis. The more you do so, the more she'll be exposed to words as well as the give and take of communication.

Narrate your day to your daughter ("Now it's time to eat lunch!") or read books to her. Reading aloud is a wonderful way to support language development. Also, try to respond to her smiles, coos, and other vocalizations with at least some short remark ("Hi sweetie!") so she learns that when she prompts you, she can expect a response. If you can, try to make your speech high and lilting, because it is more engaging for young babies (who are more attuned to high tones than low), and also because such speech patterning makes it easier for babies to hear the beginnings and ends of separate words.

Sometimes parents worry that if their young baby is silent, it means she is deaf. But babbling is hard-wired in humans, so deaf babies babble, too. Some babies are just more quiet than others. Also, premature babies or those who have been ill a great deal approach milestones at a different pace, and may make sounds later.

You can get a general sense of your baby's hearing by noting if she turns when she hears your voice or shows a response to musical toys.

Although the absence of babbling alone is not an indicator that anything is wrong at her age, bring up your concern with the pediatrician at your daughter's 6-month visit.