When Do Babies Say Their First Word?

When Do Babies Say Their First Word?


When do babies say their first word? In the first year of life, your baby’s communication abilities improve dramatically. When you speak with your child, they learn how to express themselves, respond to you, and understand what you’re saying. All of this occurs before your child speaks their first words, which usually occurs around their first birthday.


Parents sometimes expect their baby’s first words to come clear as day, but they don’t come in that clear. As speech therapists, one of our goals is to help families understand how to determine whether or not their baby’s vocalizations can be counted as “first words.” Another goal is to implement strategies that will help a baby start talking.


What is a First Word?

When thinking whether an utterance a baby makes is a word or not, we consider meaning, context, consistency, and spontaneity.


Think about the following:

  • Is your child assigning meaning to the sounds coming they are uttering? Do they look at you expectantly as if trying to tell you something? Or are they simply enjoying the act of producing the sounds?
  • For example, saying “maaaa” when looking at their mother is different from saying the same thing when babbling alone in the crib.
  • Do you notice that your little one makes the same noises again and over? Or do they have a lot of variation in his vocalizations?
  • Are the words spontaneous or is your child imitating you?


We’d like to also remind parents that a first word counts as one even if it is not pronounced perfectly. What is important is the intended meaning and not the pronunciation (which matures later with a child’s improving speech skills).


In other words, if you hear your child say anything that seems to have meaning, is appropriate for the situation, and is repeated, it’s likely that they are saying a first word.


When Do Babies Say Their First Word


Around the age of one, a child will begin to say their first words. Don’t be concerned if you haven’t yet heard vocalizations like what was outlined above. There are a lot of pre-first word skills that your child is practicing before they hit this milestone.


This is a great reference to use when making note of your child’s communication skills from birth to age one (adapted from ASHA’s speech development milestones chart):

Hearing / Understanding Speaking
Birth–3 Months

  • Notices loud sounds.
  • Gets quiet/smiles when you speak
  • Recognizes familiar voices
Birth–3 Months

  • Cooing sounds
  • Different types of crying for different needs
  • Smiles at others
4–6 Months

  • Looks in the direction of sounds
  • Notices a change in an adult’s tone of voice
  • Looks at toys/objects that make sounds/music
4–6 Months

  • Coos/babbles when alone or with others
  • Speech babbling sounds (pa, ba, and mi) appear.
  • Laughs or giggles
  • Makes sounds when feeling upset or happy
7 Months–1 Year

  • Notices sounds and looks towards them
  • Looks where you point
  • Notices when their name is called
  • Knows common everyday items like cup, milk
  • Follows simple directions like “No,” “Come,” and “Want more?”
  • Plays social games like peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake.
  • Attends to simple songs
7 Months–1 Year

  • Babbles longer strings of sounds mamama, abababa
  • Keeps your attention with sounds/gestures
  • Points to objects 
  • Uses gestures to communicate: waving bye, reaching to be picked “up,” shakes  head no
  • Imitates speech sounds
  • Close to first birthday: Says 1 or 2 words, (hi, doggie, dada, mama, or uh-oh) which may not sound clear

What to Do if Your Baby is Not Saying Their First Word


If your child is already a year old and is not saying their first word (or more importantly, showing signs of the earlier milestones), you can start helping them at home.


Parents have plenty of opportunities to integrate language stimulation strategies into their day. In addition, parents should make note of the milestones they see or don’t see so that they can share them with their pediatrician to discuss in case their child continues to miss speech or language milestones.


Patience is also important. Even during speech therapy, it’s important to make note that stress or pressure on your child will not help them speak faster. Putting your baby or toddler  on the spot and trying to force them  to repeat words only increases everyone’s stress.


What can I do to help?


  • Rule our hearing issues by getting your child’s hearing checked at the doctor’s office.
  • Imitate your child, respond when they make noises (as if these are real words)
  • Laugh when your child does; imitate other sounds they make
  • Teach your child to take turns (like when we talk) by imitating their actions (clapping, banging on the table, playing peek-a-boo, blowing kisses)
  • Narrate what you do during the day: “I’m going to open the door for the doggie;” “let’s pick a book together;” “this juice is yummy.” It’s likely that you will repeat vocabulary words every day which is a great way to learn
  • Have fun by teaching your child animal sounds (moo, bark, quack)
  • Make sure to read to your child
  • Use simple language and short sentences that you enjoy using so you will be encouraged to speak with your child

When is Speech Therapy Needed?


It’s a good idea to get a speech evaluation if a child is 15 months old and hasn’t started speaking. So, if your baby is two or three years old and still not communicating, it’s critical to consult with their physician or a speech-language pathologist. They’ll almost certainly suggest a speech screening or evaluation to check your child’s communication skills.


In these instances, early intervention is critical. The longer a toddler or preschooler  goes without help, the more likely they are to slip behind (even into school age).


If you’re only now realizing that your child may benefit from speech therapy, take action now and don’t worry about the time that has passed. Speech therapists can help you learn the skills and strategies you need to help your child.


Therapy Works Together – Online Speech Therapy for Children and Adults


We care about every child and adult achieving their speech, language and communication goals. You can start speech therapy online now with a certified speech language therapist. We’ll discuss your personal needs, develop an individualized treatment plan, and schedule affordable online therapy sessions online at your convenience.

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