Updated: Jun 4
As a parent, there's nothing quite like hearing your baby's first words. They’re such small sounds and yet so meaningful! It all starts with babbling—the "goo-goos" and "ga-gas" that your chatty little one will first use to develop their voice. As you listen to your baby babble away, know that it is the beginning of their language development.
At this stage, babies are hearing new sounds, strengthening their vocal cords and getting ready to use real language later on in life. Whether they're imitating animal noises or speaking their own baby language, this early verbal communication is an exciting milestone for both you and your child!
In this article:
What is babbling?
Babbling is an early language milestone in which babies make simple sounds and often repeat them. Although your babbling baby is not yet making sounds to communicate ideas, practicing babbling sounds helps them prepare for talking!
What babbling sounds like
Early babbling sounds will be simple consonant-vowel (for example, "ba," “ga,” or "ma") or vowel-consonant (such as "um") sounds. After a couple months, babies begin to string these sounds together in longer combinations.
Fun fact: Although babies from different cultures typically begin babbling around the same age, the sounds that they make may sound somewhat different depending on the native language that they hear!
Ages for babbling
Most babies start babbling between 4 and 6 months of age.
Their babbles will become longer and more complex until around 12 months, as babies learn to make sound “approximations”—sound combinations that begin to sound like real words.
Even by 12 months, babies may still use different babbling combinations to say a word. The difference is that they are beginning to attach meaning to those sounds.
As your baby begins to say more actual words, their babbles will gradually decrease.
Stages of babbling
You might think of babbling as simply "ga-ga-ga," but it's actually more nuanced than that. There are several phases of babbling that your baby will progress through, each with its own developmental significance.
Before they learn to babble, your baby will make lots of other sounds. In their first three to four months, your baby will likely make a variety of crying and cooing noises. Cooing refers to single-vowel sounds, such as "ooh" or "aah."
These sounds are not babbling, but they are still important steps in your baby's language journey. They are learning to communicate if they are happy, upset, or uncomfortable.
Around 4 to 5 months, your baby will really begin to experiment with sound production! They will figure out how to combine a consonant and vowel sound to make a syllable like "baa" or "umm." They will also try out a variety of other sounds, such as blowing raspberries, grunting (and crying, of course).
Canonical babbling generally lasts from approximately 6 to 10 months of age. It's often further divided into two subtypes:
Reduplicated babbling is what most people think of as babbling. It is the repetition of the same syllable over and over again—the classic "goo-goo-goo" and "ga-ga-ga!"
Through reduplicated babbling, babies practice combining and experimenting with sounds, creating rhythmic and repeated syllables such as "ma-ma" or "da-da." Although making these sounds is developmentally important, don't get too excited—your baby isn't calling you "Mama" just yet!
Reduplicated babbling is crucial for developing babies' vocal muscles, teaching them to control their sounds and practice various vocal intonations. This process also helps babies learn to process and distinguish between different sounds, sharpening their cognitive skills.
During the second subtype, called variegated babbling (or non-reduplicated babbling), babies experiment with combining different consonant and vowel sounds in a variety of ways to form complex and non-repetitive syllable sequences. For example, a baby might say, "ba-ma-dee-dee!" This is when your little one really begins to display their creativity with language!
Through variegated babbling, babies develop their ability to make more complex and meaningful speech sounds. Eventually, the speech sounds will develop into a baby's first approximations and words.
Variegated babbling also helps babies learn to understand and distinguish between different sounds.
The final stage of babbling, called conversational babbling or baby jargon, begins around 10 months. In this stage, your baby's babbling sounds will begin to resemble the sound of adult conversation—they will pause, use the rhythms and intonations of speech, and even mimic conversational turn taking (going back and forth between the child and the speaker).
If you repeat your baby's sounds, or introduce new sounds, they may pause and listen and then respond with their own babbles. Your baby is practicing having a back-and-forth conversation!
Often, your baby's first words will be mixed up in their jargon. So you might hear, "Mama! [pause] Go-bo-ga-ma!" or similar.
How babies learn to babble
Most babies are born with the ability to make different sounds, but they also learn to babble from observing their environment. Factors that contribute to a baby's babbles include:
1. Experimenting with different sounds, intonations, and vocal melodies, including learning to control their breathing and vocal muscles
2. Hearing adult speech and learning to differentiate between different voices
3. Imitating speech and other sounds, such as nature or toy sounds
4. Reinforcement from caregivers who respond to a baby's babbles and encourage them to keep interacting
By combining all of these learning experiences, babies begin to use sounds together to form words, short phrases, and eventually sentences.
The developmental significance of babbling
An important step in language acquisition
Babbling is an important early step towards your baby's development of expressive language skills (communicating ideas). Through babbling, they learn to make different sounds and combine those sounds, which will eventually allow them to form real words and sentences.
Babbling also helps with the development of receptive language (listening and understanding others). When you talk and make sounds back and forth with your baby, they are learning to listen to what others say.
Babbling can also provide an opportunity to teach your baby that words have meanings. If your baby is holding a toy and babbling, you can say, "Yes, that's your ball!" Eventually, your baby will connect the word and object and gradually build their vocabulary.
Keep in mind that children develop receptive language before expressive language, so your baby will understand a word before they can actually say it.
Importance to other developmental domains
Although babbling is a language milestone, it's also important for other aspects of a child's development.
Cognitive development: Through babbling, babies learn how to recognize and process different sounds.
Social development: Babbling allows babies to interact with their caregivers and learn the basics of conversation, such as turn-taking. It also helps them learn how to express their needs and desires effectively.
Bonding: Responding positively and enthusiastically to a baby's babbles can help caregivers strengthen their relationship with their child. It shows the baby that their caregiver is listening and cares about what they have to say.
Holistic Approach to Child Development: The PROE Framework explains more about how the different developmental domains work together.
The meaning of baby babbles
At first, your baby's babbles will be simple sound experimentations.
As your baby babbles more, they will start mimicking the sounds they hear in their environment, indicating that they are attempting to say words. This is an exciting development!
If you hear your baby make a recognizable consonant sound, help them finish the word. For instance, if they point to their mother and say "ma," reply enthusiastically, "Yes, that's Mama!" This is called “recasting.”
Delays in speech development
Identifying a developmental delay
The following are early language milestones to keep in mind:
4 months: Babies should make a variety of sounds, such as coos (vowel sounds) and gurgles.
6 months: Babies should begin to make consonant sounds (such as "m," "d," and "b") and combine them with vowel sounds to make syllables.
8-10 months: Babies should start to combine different consonant and vowel sounds to form complex syllable sequences, such as "ba-ba-ma-da."
Consult with your healthcare provider if your baby does not meet any of these milestones or if you have any other concerns about your baby's language development.
Possible causes of delay
There are a number of issues that might contribute to delayed speech development, including:
Hearing loss: Hearing the sounds and nuances of speech is crucial for vocal learning.
Physical impairment: A baby might have a physical impairment that impacts the mouth or tongue, such as a cleft lip or palate, which can make it difficult for them to form sounds properly.
Neurological conditions: There are a variety of neurological conditions that can cause speech delays. For example, cerebral palsy can impact the muscle control and coordination necessary to produce clear speech sounds. With childhood apraxia of speech, the child's brain struggles to direct or coordinate the muscles needed for speech.
Developmental conditions: Conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder and Down Syndrome can lead to delays and challenges in language development.
Environmental factors: Environmental factors, like lack of stimulation, can also delay a baby's speech development. Babies need to hear sounds made by others to develop their own speech sounds.
Whatever the reason may be, it's important to work with your pediatrician to identify any underlying issues and provide support for your little one along their speech and language journey.
What to do if your baby doesn't babble
There are a variety of ways that you can encourage your baby to babble. Some general tips include:
Talk to your baby as often as possible to expose them to different sounds. You can discuss what you and your baby are doing, describe objects around you, read books—anything that lets them hear a variety of language. This can be as simple as naming different objects while changing your baby’s diaper.
Repeat the sounds that your baby makes. This will help them recognize the sounds and encourage them to make more sounds.
Respond to your baby when they babble, as though you are having a conversation, so they can learn the back-and-forth style of adult communication.
Have fun with sounds! Make silly sounds and encourage your baby to repeat them. Playing with sounds helps your baby learn to make different sounds and strengthens their vocal muscles.
Sing songs and say rhymes with your baby. This helps them develop their vocal rhythm and intonation skills and teaches them to mimic conversational turn taking.
Use supportive language cues to help your child learn. For example, make exaggerated facial expressions to show your baby how to make different sounds. Cheer them on when they repeat a sound that you make.
You can find lots of fun activities on the Pathfinder Health app that will help you encourage your baby's speech development. Our app also lets you track your child's milestones and helps you understand what milestones should occur at what age and why they are significant.
A sample language activity from the Pathfinder Health app:
You can download the Pathfinder Health app HERE.
Seeking a professional evaluation
While every child develops at their own pace, babies typically start to babble by around 6 months old. If your baby isn't babbling yet, don't panic. Some babies may take a little longer to reach this milestone.
However, if your baby isn't making any sounds or seems uninterested in communicating with you by 7 months, you should consult with your healthcare provider.
Delayed babbling doesn't necessarily mean there is something wrong. It may just mean that your baby needs a little extra encouragement and attention from you.
Your healthcare provider may also refer you to a speech-language pathologist for an evaluation and possible interventions or therapies.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Do autistic babies babble?
It depends. Some studies have suggested that babies later diagnosed with autism (ASD) may babble less or later than neurotypical babies. However, some babies with ASD babble like any other child. Babies with ASD may struggle to develop back-and-forth communication.
2. What are the stages of babbling?
The stages of babbling, with approximate ages, are:
Marginal babbling (4-5 months): e.g. “ma,” “ba,” “da”
Canonical babbling (reduplicated babbling) (6-8 months): e.g. “ma-ma-ma” or “da-da-da”
Canonical babbling (variegated babbling) (8-10 months): e.g. “ma-da-go”
Conversational babbling (10+ months): imitating rhythm and intonation of adult speech
First words (12 months)
3. What is considered late babbling?
Typically, babies begin babbling between 4 and 6 months old by saying simple syllables such as “ma.” If your baby is not producing any consonant-vowel combinations by 7 months old, consult with your pediatrician about possible hearing, speech, or developmental issues.
4. Is babbling a sign of autism?
Babbling is an important developmental milestone. Delayed babbling—usually considered to be an absence of any consonant-vowel combinations by 7 months old—can be an early sign of autism and warrants a discussion with your healthcare provider.
5. What is an example of babbling?
Marginal babbling has single-syllable consonant-vowel combinations like “maa.” Canonical babbling (reduplicated) repeats these syllables, such as “ma-ma-ma.” In canonical babbling (variegated), babies mix up syllables like “ma-da-go.”
6. When should a baby start babbling?
As with every milestone, there is an age range for typical development. Most babies start babbling between 4 and 6 months, beginning with simple consonant-vowel sounds. If a baby doesn't babble by 7 months, they should be evaluated for any issues.
7. Is babbling normal at 18 months?
It’s completely normal for an 18-month old to still babble, but there should be some actual words mixed in with the “ma-ba-dee-go.” At 18 months, most children can say at least 10 or so words. As their vocabulary grows, real words will gradually replace the babble.
8. What are the two types of babbling?
Canonical babbling is when babies begin stringing together multiple syllables. There are two types:
In reduplicated babbling, babies repeat the same syllable, such as “ma-ma-ma-ma.”
In variegated (non-reduplicated), they combine different syllables, such as “ma-dee-ba-go.”
9. What is the difference between babbling and cooing?
Cooing is an earlier speech milestone that involves a single vowel sound like “aah” or “ooh.” Babbling introduces a consonant sound to produce syllables like “ma” and “ba.” In later stages of babbling, babies string together multiple syllables.
10. Does early babbling mean early talking?
Early talking is about more than just babbling–it also depends on understanding language. Because the rate and timing of language acquisition varies between individuals, it’s not possible to say that one early milestone predicts the early achievement of another skill.
Every baby is different and some may take longer than others to babble and say actual words. However, understanding what each stage of babbling looks like can help you nurture your baby’s language development and give them help if they need it.
Take time throughout each day to chat with your little one and enjoy their new sounds—they will love hearing you talk and it will encourage them to develop their own voice!
Goldstein MH, Schwade JA. Social feedback to infants' babbling facilitates rapid phonological learning. Psychol Sci. 2008 May;19(5):515-23. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02117.x.