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The Importance of Baby Talk and Why Fathers Need to Do it More

Katrina Wharton |23, November 2014


New research published in the December issue of the journal Pediatrics finds that parents need to talk to babies more. What's more, there was a big difference with gender beginning with a big disparity between how much mothers speak to babies compared to fathers.

The publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics, showed how the research involving 33 late preterm and term infants received far more verbal communication from birth to age 7 months from their mothers than their fathers.

Another fact uncovered was that parents tended to speak more to the same sex children, as in mothers talk to infant daughters more than sons, and conversely, fathers talk to baby sons more than daughters.

Researchers found that parents communicated to their children more as they got older, as well. For this study, audio recordings were studied which were taken at three different points in their early months. The gender preferences of speech for parents was discovered with both mothers and fathers at 44 weeks postpartum. The research also showed that babies showed a preference for mother's voice.

The AAP recommends that parents become aware of the importance of frequent and early communication with their babies, from newborns onward.

Lead author, from the pediatrics department at Women and Infants Hospital in Providence, R.I., Dr. Betty R. Vohr, says, "We know that talking and playing with an infant improves cognitive and language skills. Early conversations start in infancy and infants appear primed to communicate shortly after birth. Both mothers and fathers can play an important role in their infant's developmental progress."

For the study, babies were outfitted with vests containing recording equipment, which they wore for 10 to 16 hours at birth, and again at one month and seven months of age. Researchers compiled data on the adult word count, the infant's vocalizations, and conversational exchanges between parent and child.

Researchers were not surprised that mothers responded more often to infant vocalizations, since they are more likely to be the hands-on caregiver consistently, and it also explains why infants recognize and respond to female voices first.

What was surprising was the finding that mothers vocalized to daughters more frequently than sons at birth as well as at the one month recording.

It's been long noted that girls seem to develop speech earlier than boys, and this may point to one possible cause for the disparity.

The researchers did a previous study using the same audio equipment, however they only included preterm infants for this study. What they found is that the more parents talked with baby, the higher the child's cognitive and language skills at 18 months of age. This pointed out the importance of parental communication with infants.

Vohr remarked, "Both parents and in fact all caregivers need to be told about the importance of talking, singing and playing with their infant or child."

How to Be More Verbal with Infants

Earlier this year, the AAP came out with new guidelines for doctors to talk to parents not only about nutrition and illnesses, but the importance of reading to children.

AAP President, James M. Perrin said, "The benefits are so compelling that encouraging reading at young children's check-ups has become an essential component of our care."

Here are some ways to keep the conversation flowing with your baby:

Like the AAP recommends, read to your baby daily.

It doesn't matter if your baby only seems to find chewing the pages interesting, reading to your baby is propelling your child towards success in school.

Sing to your baby.

If you can't carry a tune, no worries. This is your child, not American Idol. Singing to your baby will help him/her with language, and the different pitches and intonations are good to learn to follow, too.

Label your baby's world.

If you just landed on a distant planet and had to learn your way around, what would be most helpful? It would probably be labeling objects and actions, so you could begin to learn their world and language. Do the same for baby; as you go through your day together, name the objects baby encounters

Be your baby's tour guide.

If you don't know what to say to your baby, even just narrating the day's events as they happen provided benefits. "Daddy is home! Let's give Daddy a hug!" "Mommy is giving you're your cereal now. Here is the bowl."

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