How do you recognize a baby’s first word?

E has been doing a lot of verbalizing recently. It’s sophisticated language, full of complicated syllables that seem quite significant, especially when accompanied by his earnest nodding. I can’t help but wonder what he’s saying – or if it’s like when you’re a kid and you write lines of scribbles because it looks like grown-up cursive writing to you, even though it can’t be read. Are these his verbal scribbles, and he feels like a big person when he talks like this? And out of all this, how do you know when your baby has said his first word, if lots of things sound like words? People talk about baby’s first word like it’s cut-and-dried, like you know exactly what it is, but I don’t feel that confident.

Here’s why I ask. It was a rough night. Well, it was average, until 5:11 a.m. when E was suddenly awake and weeping inconsolably. This is unusual for him: he normally doesn’t do any real crying during the night. He didn’t want to nurse, he didn’t want a snuggle. I tried getting him upright for a burp, which worked last time he seemed to be having pain, but to no avail.

These are the moments you dread as a parent: feeling powerless to do the only thing you want to do, which is make it all better for your child. Knowing your baby is genuinely upset about something and not knowing what it is. Thankfully, Sean had opted to sleep downstairs in order to be sure to get enough rest for today – I’m happy when we don’t all have to get up, but I’ll admit it is more scary when you’re alone and uncertain, rather than uncertain with someone else.

E’s sleeper was a little wet on one side, so we (I mean I) decided to try him on the potty. Poor little dickens was so tired, but still crying. We went in and got him on there, and I bent down so that he could rest his head on my shoulder and hold on to me. Soon he wasn’t crying anymore, which was a relief. But it was still dark out, and I was alone with the baby in dim light…

And then he started speaking. He spoke in a whisper, in that complicated, exotic language he has. His head was leaning on my shoulder and his face was turned to the side – incidentally, toward his big basket of stuffed animals. I couldn’t shake the creepy sensation that he was speaking to them, in a language they would understand. His words sounded so deliberate, like an incantation or a summons. Then he was suddenly whispering, “Hi… hi… hi…”, and I, in my sleep-fuzzied-state, felt like this could turn into a possessed-baby horror movie any second.

It didn’t, of course. We went back to the bedroom, and although he did say Hi to me quite a few more times – and was annoyingly awake for the next hour or so – no stuffed animals crept into the room to suffocate me or anything.

By the time we got up for the day (and we did get more sleep first, thank goodness), the sun was shining and all was well. And then, E was crawling around on the bed and he found his reflection in the wall mirror, and he waved, and said “Hi!”

Could that possibly be a coincidence?? Does it count? If so, does it count more than the times we coached and coached him until he said something resembling “cracker” or “Grandma”? Is he just remembering how we worked on “High five” yesterday? Does he just like the sound? Because last night, it just seemed he was relishing practicing his linguistic skills.

Hey all you parents, how did you know when your baby said the first word? And out of curiosity… what was it?

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4 thoughts on “How do you recognize a baby’s first word?

  1. Tammy says:

    Batman. That was Ben’s first word and he was 9 months old. He said batman for EVERYTHING and EVERYONE. Claire’s was Mama and she was about 10 months.
    I hear you about not knowing what a child really needs or wants at such a young age. Even with the ages my kids are now and the speaking skills they both have it’s still difficult at times to know. Just whatever you do my friend, don’t EVER doubt yourself. The saying Mama know’s best is true. xoxo

  2. Bev says:

    I rather think all mine started with “Mama” but I can’t be sure. Mamas are not called “Mama” because someone adult and sophisticated decided that would be a good name for them but because babies can say it spontaneously. Then we give them LOADS of positive feedback, and there you go! Baby has learned to address her/his mother, and it works! But after Mama (which is a word but isn’t like any of the others, for reasons just given)I don’t know. I’m sure it’s written down in my UNICEF calendars for the appropriate years but I can’t look those up now. One thing I do remember, though, is that when each of you said a first or a new word, it was a stand-alone occasion. You yourselves distinguished it from all the babybabble that generally went on. You said it by itself and knew it was special – spoken usually with a tone of triumph, if not the very first time, at least after you’d got that famous positive feedback. Imitating “grandma” or “cracker” is still just imitation, but the first word spoken on baby’s own initiative is recognized by the baby as significant.

  3. Beth says:

    Arwen’s first word was “flower” but it was pronounced more like “fire”. I had a Tshirt that I wore regularly with a rather bright flower print center front. She would point at it as I held her and I would repeat “flower”. Then one day she said it, “fire” and I was excited and positive. “That’s right, it’s a flower.” So there were several repetitions of “fire” as she poked at the t-shirt. So I pointed to a real fower. I think we were walking through the park and it was spring and Arwen was about 10 months old. I pointed and said flower and she got excited. For about 3 weeks any brightly coloured object she saw became “fire”. And after that there was no stopping her.

    Amanda’s first word was “light” pronounced “yite”. She loved the game where I held her standing near the light switch and flipped on the light and I’d say, “light on” and then I’d flip it again and say, “light off”. She’d giggle like mad at the game. One day I was carrying her past the switch and she pointed up to the ceiling and said, clear as day, “Yite!”. She wanted to play the game.
    Also close to this time she started saying “assa” which was her version of “what’s that” which is what I would say whenever she pointed at something. I’d say “what’s that”, she’d say, “assa?” and I’d give her the word.

    Thanks. Nice memories.
    BTW, still working on the birth stories.

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