Speech-Language Developmental Milestones:

Birth to One Year of Age

As a parent and a speech-language pathologist, I truly understand that a child’s first spoken word is a monumental milestone much anticipated and duly celebrated! Indeed, one of the greatest aspects of my job is that I am often a part of helping to achieve that milestone and am often a witness to this momentous occasion. A child’s first words are typically spoken around the age of one year. However, before those first words are spoken, many other speech and language milestones must be met.

Speech-language milestones during the first year of life are documented in terms of both receptive and expressive skills. Receptive skills are associated with understanding of sounds and words. Expressive skills reflect the use of gestures and speech to communicate. Logically, receptive skills emerge prior to expressive skills; however, both receptive and expressive skills begin to develop shortly after birth.

Below are general guidelines for determining whether a baby is progressing appropriately toward use of those highly anticipated first words.


Receptive Language

Expressive Language

By End of Three Months

  • Recognizes mother’s voice
  • Startles to loud sounds
  • Quiets or smiles when spoken to
  • Cries differently for different needs
  • Makes cooing sounds
  • Smiles when sees you
  • By End of Six Months

    • Moves eyes in direction of sounds
    • Notices that some toys make noise
    • Pays attention to music
    • Responds to changes in tone of voice
  • Makes gurgling sounds when playing with you and/or when left alone
  • Begins to babble reduplicative sequences, e.g., ba-ba-ba, ma-ma-ma, etc.
  • Begins to laugh to show pleasure and use vocalizations to express displeasure
  • By End of Twelve Months

    • Turns and looks in direction of sounds
    • Listens when spoken to
    • Enjoys games like peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake
    • Understands “no.”
    • Understands words for common people and objects, e.g., mama, daddy, cup, shoe, etc.
    • Begins to follow simple commands, e.g., “Give me,” “Come here,” etc.
  • Uses gestures to communicate, e.g., pointing, waving, raising arms to indicate desire to be picked up, etc.
  • Attempts to imitate sounds and words
  • Babbling begins to mimic the rhythm of adult speech
  • First words are noted, e.g., mama, dada, uh-oh, etc.
  • Parents can set the stage for attainment of these milestones by:

    • Ensuring that their child is hearing, and seeking appropriate services if there are problems with the ears or recurrent ear infections.

    • Responding to their child’s vocalizations by looking at the child, speaking to the child, and imitating the child’s vocalizations. This reinforces the child’s early attempts at communication.

    • Teaching imitation of actions, such as clapping, waving bye-bye, peek-a-boo, pat-a-cake, etc. This sets the stage for eventual imitation of speech and helps to establish turn-taking.

    • Providing a running commentary while performing daily activities such as dressing, bathing, feeding, etc. For example, “Samantha is eating. She’s eating a banana. Yummy. Samantha likes bananas.”

    • Speaking to their child’s pediatrician if there are any concerns regarding attainment of these early milestones.

    Melodie Meadows is a speech-language pathologist with over twenty years of experience.  She is licensed in the state of North Carolina and certified by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association.   Melodie is particularly delighted to share this information regarding early developmental milestones, as she has been blessed with two new great-nieces and a great nephew, all born within the past six months!