Baby Sign Language: Why Do Parents Use Baby Sign Language?

Does it feel like your baby’s thoughts and feelings are a mystery? Do you find yourself wishing that your baby could just tell you what they want or need you to do? Well, just because your baby can’t talk doesn’t mean they don't want to communicate. In fact, from the day your baby is born, they’re laying the developmental foundation to communicate with the people around them.

While every baby develops at their own unique pace, speech development typically follows this trajectory: 

  • 0-6 months: Your baby is starting to make sense of the world around them and beginning to associate the sounds they hear with different sources and lip movements. 
  • 4-6 months: Let the babbling begin! Your baby will start making sounds—lots of them!—and will even begin recognizing words they hear repeatedly, like “Mommy” and “Daddy” and their own name.  
  • 7-12 months: All that babbling will start sounding more like actual words and you’ll find your baby repeating sounds, recognizing different tones (like “Stop!” or “No!”), and understanding common gestures like waving. 
  • 12 months: Around this age, all the pieces of the puzzle come together and most babies will say their first word. Common first words are “hi,” “bye,” “mama,” “dada,” and—of course—“no.”  

But even before they say that first word, there is a way that you can talk to your baby. In this blog post, we explore baby sign language, including how to teach baby sign language, its benefits, and how you can use it to communicate with your baby—even when you think they can’t talk to you.

Baby Sign Language Basics

It may seem like all the noises your cute teeny baby makes are meaningless, but all that babbling and cooing is your baby’s first step towards speech—and it turns out that your baby probably has a lot to say.

Baby sign language can help you unlock all the thoughts in your baby’s brain by giving your baby a way to communicate with easy-to-learn symbolic gestures for common words and actions. But learning when your baby wants more milk isn’t the only reason why parents use baby sign language. 

Why do Parents Use Baby Sign Language?

Teaching your baby to sign can bridge the gap between the time when your baby wants to communicate their needs and when they can form words, easing their frustration and creating a tighter bond between the two of you.

Wondering what baby signs to teach your little one? Refer to the following basic baby sign language list for common signs you can teach your little one:

  • More: More is signed by tapping your fingertips together. 
  • All done: All Done is signed by twisting your hands back and forth. 
  • Sleep: To sign sleep, start with your dominant fingers extended and spread apart. Beginning with your hand over your face, move your fingers down to end with your hand below your chin and your fingers touching your thumb.
  • Hungry: To make the sign for hungry, take your hand and make it into a 'C' shape, with your palm facing the center of your body. Start with your 'C' hand around your neck and move it down towards your stomach. 
  • Eat: Make the sign for eat by taking your dominant hand and forming an ‘O’ shape, then tap your fingers to your mouth once. 
  • Milk: Milk is signed by opening and closing your hand, like you are milking a cow. 
  • Bye bye: To sign bye bye, hold your hand out fully extended, fold down your fingers, then open your palm again.

The Benefits of Baby Sign Language

Being able to sign with your little one is fun, but baby signs are much more than a cool baby party trick. Research has found that baby sign language gives your baby communication skills without delaying their ability to communicate verbally—that means they can tell you what they want or need by signing instead of whining or crying, reducing frustration for both of you and creating an environment of trust for your baby.

When should you teach baby sign language to get the most out of these moments of communication? Focus on times when you’re both feeling light-hearted and relaxed, like when your baby is swaying to and fro in the MamaRoo® Multi-Motion Baby Swing™. Use this comforting time to reinforce signs by repeating them over and over again as your baby swings.

Here's another idea for when to start sign language with your baby: Look for relevant moments throughout the day to boost your little one's understanding of different baby signs. Take mealtimes, for example: while your baby is in their high chair, work on the signs for words like “eat,” “more,” and “all done” to seamlessly integrate learning. Bathtime presents another great opportunity for learning baby sign language. As they’re splish-splashing in the Cleanwater™ Tub, practice the signs for “water,” “play,” and “all done.”

What Age Should You Start Baby Sign Language?

There’s no hard and fast answer to when to start sign language with your baby —it really depends on when they start showing an interest in communicating. Mealtimes are a great time to check in on your baby’s development and see if they are hitting all of their speech milestones. As they’re sitting at the table engaging with family members from the comfort of their Connect High Chair®, make it a point to watch for early communication cues. Observe your baby carefully and if you notice they’ve started making more noises, using more facial expressions and are trying to get your attention, they’re ready to start learning baby signs.

How Do I Teach My Baby Sign Language?

Once your baby seems ready, follow these tips to open up a world of communication for you and your baby:

  • Start early. Babies can begin to understand and use signs as young as six months, so beginning as soon as they are ready is crucial. 
  • Prioritize basic baby sign language that's relevant to your baby's daily life, such as "milk," "more," or "diaper."  
  • Say the word aloud as you sign it—combining signing with verbal communication goes a long way toward improving your baby’s understanding of each word and sign. 
  • Respect your baby's preferences. They’ll give you clues that let you know if they’re open to learning a sign or not. If they seem uncomfortable or disinterested, take a break for a week or two and then start up again. 
  • Tap into resources like classes, books, or online materials to expand your knowledge and create a consistent approach for how to teach baby sign language.  
  • Encourage family members and caregivers to use signs as your baby learns them.  
  • Celebrate your baby's sign language milestones to encourage their progress and foster a deeper connection between you and your little one.

You’ll See the Signs

Teaching your baby sign language isn’t just fun. It’s a valuable tool to help your baby communicate, reducing frustration for them and helping you to understand their needs before they can speak. 

As you’re working on signing together, be sure to lean into gear that creates a safe and comfortable environment for your baby, like the MamaRoo® Multi-Motion Baby Swing™ and the Connect High Chair®, to nurture their development and improve their communication skills.