Talking for Two
In your baby's first year, her senses and muscles are programmed for quick development. But they can't develop without stimulation. In a famous experiment, kittens were blindfolded at birth. Some time later the blindfolds were removed. Though the kittens had physically normal eyes, they were never able to see because their vision was not stimulated during a developmentally critical period.
Of your baby's senses, the sense of hearing is most developed at birth. She began listening before she was born. She's used to the sound of your voice — and she likes it a lot. You'll find that you'll naturally raise the pitch of your voice and talk in a sing-song pattern — these are the sounds she wants to hear and you automatically know how to make them.
As many as 4 in 1,000 infants have some form of hearing impairment. Those who get help before six months of age are more likely to develop language normally. A simple test that measures brain activity in response to tones and sound is available. In some hospitals this test is performed routinely, so ask for one before you take your newborn home from the hospital. The test typically costs between $30 and $150 and is covered by many insurance plans.
You won't necessarily know what to say at first. You might even feel pretty silly talking to someone who doesn't talk back, but you'll get used to it. You shouldn't use baby talk. You're better off saying blanket than “blankie,” for example, to allow your baby to hear all of the sounds of the language she will soon be speaking. You do, however, need to forget about pronouns for a while. Instead of “I, you, he” say “Mama, Susie, Daddy.” Right now Susie's finding out that everything has a name; later she'll figure out that lots of people can be called “she” or “you.”
Pretend you're the narrator of a show starring your baby. Whatever you're doing, describe it. “Mama is taking off Susie's pajamas. One snap, two snaps, three snaps, four snaps. Ohh! There's Susie's tummy. Mama gives Susie's tummy a kiss. Kiss! Now Susie needs a new diaper. Okay, here's the diaper now.”
If your baby responds with any kind of noise, act like she's talking back. Pause to let her finish her comment, and then respond. You can have great conversations and your baby will agree with anything you say (for now). Savor this!