skip to main content
Why You Should Talk to Your Newborn (Even If It Feels Weird)
June 14, 2024

Why You Should Talk to Your Newborn (Even If It Feels Weird)

By Grace Gallagher | Fact Checked by Amylia Ryan
Babylist editors love baby gear and independently curate their favorite products to share with you. If you buy something through links on our site, Babylist may earn a commission.

In the first few weeks of my son’s life, Ira Glass talked to my baby more than I did. I was sleep-deprived, a little shell-shocked and the podcast This American Life felt soothing. Not to mention, I didn’t even know what exactly to talk to my son about—I barely knew the guy. Ira seemed to know what to say, so I let him do the talking.

Apparently, I’m not alone. “I remember feeling like a lunatic talking to this thing that gave nothing back at all,” says Natalie, a UK-based mother of two. “I felt awkward and embarrassed, and when my husband came into the room for the first week or so, I just stopped talking to her—I was so embarrassed to be caught doing it!”

If, like Natalie, trying to communicate with your baby feels unnatural and more than a little silly, take comfort in knowing that pediatricians, speech-language pathologists and early childhood development experts all actually recommend that you do talk to your newborn—and a lot.

In fact, many recommend speaking to your baby while they’re still in the womb. Lauren, a mother of two in Fort Myers, Florida, recalls the first thing the midwives said as they handed over her newborn baby girl: “Talk to her!” 

She wasn’t sure what to say, so she found herself saying “a really strange-sounding hello.” Her infant is now just four weeks old, and she says, “I still find myself just describing what I'm doing, and then I'm still feeling very much like I'm talking to myself.”

Some new parents find it natural to talk to their newborn at length, but that may not be the case for everyone. So if you feel a little weird about striking up (and maintaining) conversation with your baby, we’ve got expert tips to make it a little easier. 

Why parents should talk to their newborns 

“Talking to your baby stimulates brain development and encourages language,” says Monica Wonnacott, a pediatrician and mother of four. Of course, they won't understand the words (they don’t even know they have hands yet), but they’ll quickly grasp that speaking is a form of interaction.

“As babies learn that vocalizations (simple sounds at first) result in parental action, they learn to talk and interact. In turn, parents instinctively respond to the baby,” Wonnacott says. “Have you ever been around a baby who smiles and says ‘ba, ba, ba’ to you? Without realizing it, you probably imitate the same sounds back. The whole exchange leaves both of you smiling and feeling good.”

Beyond social skills, talking to your baby helps build their vocabulary and develop receptive language, or the words a person hears and understands when being spoken to, says Fae Dopwell, a board-certified developmental-behavioral pediatrician and medical director at Pediatrix Medical Group. 

“Speaking to your child as early as the newborn stage helps establish the foundation of their receptive language skills. As your child gets older, they will develop better listening skills, which will guide them in following directions and determining next steps,” Dopwell says, adding that studies show early and frequent exposure to the spoken word through conversation or reading promotes language development and has a positive association with a child’s later reading skills.

So, talking to your baby is important for several different areas of their development. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.

How often should you talk to your baby?

“From a speech and language perspective, babies learn through mimicking what they hear, so it’s important that they are exposed to speech often,” Minney says.

But how often is “often”?

Wonnacott and Dopwell (and most of the expert advice on the internet) agree on how often you should talk to your baby: all the time, as much as possible. That can seem daunting, especially for sleep-deprived new parents who are used to long periods of silence. But it doesn’t have to be a running monologue.

Minney takes a slightly different approach, at least in the beginning. “I usually tell parents not to stress about talking ‘all the time’ in the first few weeks. Gently talking through what they’re doing, like, ‘You’re wet, we’re going to change your diaper’ or ‘Mama’s here, you want milk?’ is a great start,” Minney says, adding that once parents have adapted to their new normal, they can be more intentional about talking to their baby more often.

What if you feel awkward talking to your baby? Lauren, the mom who was concerned about her weird first hello to her baby, put it succinctly: “Talking to my newborn was about as awkward as walking into my first-ever speed networking event.”

Like breastfeeding or swaddling, you may find that when it actually comes time to talk to your baby, it’s not as natural as you’d imagine. Some parents will have no problem chatting as if their baby could respond. But if you’re unsure where to start, here are some easy ideas to break the ice.

Easy ways to talk to your baby

Read a book

One of the best ways to get used to talking to your newborn is to read books to them. In addition to reading the words on the page, feel free to go a little rogue. “Talk about what you see in the picture and feel free to create your own story or elaborate,” Dopwell says.

Talk about your day

“You can start by having a conversation about your day, what you’re excited about, how much you love your child or something you see,” Dopwell says. Go over what your plan is for later (even if it’s breastfeeding on the couch) or what you’ve already done that day.

“Don’t be afraid just to talk and interact. Talk about anything and everything. What's the weather like today, what's for lunch, politics, whatever. Just say it with expression,” Wonnacott says.

Eventually, I realized that one of the best things about my young baby as a conversation partner was that he was trustworthy (or he couldn’t repeat anything I said), and he enjoyed hearing it as long as I said it in a soothing voice. He ended up hearing a lot of gossip, my feelings on returning to work and other things I was working out internally.

Narrate

If you run out of things to say, just talk to your baby about what you’re doing and what’s happening around them.

“Narrating is talking about what parents are doing with their baby or simply what they’re seeing or experiencing around them. This can sound like, ‘I’m putting your dry diaper on. There, that feels much better!” Minney says, adding that this strategy works well outside on a walk, pointing out things you see and hear. 

One way to think about narrating is simply paying attention to your senses and then reporting to your baby what you see, smell or hear.

And keep in mind that you don’t need to be talking all day if it’s exhausting for you. In fact, if you feel overwhelmed with all the talking, it’s possible that your child does too. At different points throughout the day, it can be nice to take a break from speaking and embrace silence or have music or a podcast playing. 

But note that music and podcasts aren’t a substitute for face-to-face conversation. Wonnacott says podcasts don’t have the same benefits as you talking directly to your baby (sorry, Ira) because children need to see the face (expressions, intonation and how the mouth forms sound). The same goes for music, she adds. "Music is good for brain development, but not necessarily for speech acquisition.”

Is it okay to use baby talk?

You don’t have to talk to your baby exactly like you would another adult—after all, you probably wouldn’t ask most other adults if they just pooped. It’s natural to speak to your baby in a slightly higher-pitched voice, and you may do it without realizing. But you might also wonder if you should skip the baby talk. 

Actually, this tone is a good thing. “Infants pay especially close attention to a sing-song higher pitch speaking style called ‘parentese,’ and I recommend that when speaking to an infant. Many parents do this naturally without thinking about it,” Minney says. 

But forgo using cutesy, babyish, mispronounced words; Minney says that it is important to pronounce words correctly when speaking to a newborn.

How to know if all that talking is working

When you start to notice your baby responding, it usually gets easier to talk to them (because it feels less like you’re talking to a sack of potatoes). And once they start laughing, usually around two to three months old, you’ll be a full-blown comedian, doing anything to get a giggle.

“Even if your child isn’t talking yet, you may see some nonverbal responses such as quieting if fussy, stilling their body as they listen, looking at you as you speak, [giving a] social smile or a change in facial expression,” Dopwell says, adding that you can start imitating the sounds your child makes or respond as though you understood what they said.

The takeaway

While talking to your newborn might feel awkward, it's a crucial step in their development. Whether you're reading books or channeling your inner documentarian by explaining everything around you, the words you say help your baby learn and grow. 

UK mom Natalie, now 11 years into motherhood, told me, “It took a few weeks and a lot of bonding time to get used to it all. If other parents experience the same thing, know it’s not just you and doesn’t mean you don’t love your baby. It takes lots of cuddles, getting to know [your baby] and getting to know your partner in this very real new role you have to play.”

And even when it feels unnatural, remember it’s a temporary state—soon your baby will be laughing, and then they’ll be a toddler (and an expert in truly nonstop narration).


Grace Gallagher

Grace Gallagher is a parenting and lifestyle writer whose work focuses on maternal mental health, fertility, pregnancy, and product roundups for busy parents.

This information is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. We do not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here. Babylist may earn compensation from affiliate links in this content. Learn more about how we write Babylist content and review products, as well as the Babylist Health Advisory Board.