When I became a first time mom, I knew I’d try to use a small amount of baby sign language. My sister had huge success doing it, which is what put it on my radar. She used a ton of signs for all sorts of specific words…it was pretty amazing! I have only used 3 signs with all 4 of my babies. But these first 3 baby signs, introduced somewhere around age 1, have been super helpful and easy to do!
I had all sorts of questions at first like, “When can my baby understand me?” And, “When should I try to start signing?” I’ll show you how we’ve introduced signing, and how to know if they are trying to do it back.
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Why sign with a baby at all?
Babies can communicate through sign language months earlier than they can speak! Signing is a way to help them talk to you with less frustration.
Do you need to teach signing? No. Your baby will eventually learn what they need to do to get your attention and you’ll eventually give them what they need.
But signing has helped me decrease the amount of squawking for things, throwing food, and slapping me to nurse.
(This is a different kind of slapping than when my toddlers begin to hit around 18 months or pulling sibling’s hair, which seems to stem from needing more positive attention).
It’s also really fascinating and extremely cute to see your baby talking with signs!
When is the best time to start teaching baby sign language?
You can’t really do it too early, or too late!
If they are too young to sign back, they’ll just be soaking it in like they soak in everything else.
If they are “late talking toddlers” (two of my boys barely spoke anything before age 2), then signing can really help them politely communicate.
This guide to baby signing explains baby sign language more in depth and suggest babies are ready for it by 10 months.
Clues I look for to see if I want to start teaching baby signs
If you want to wait till they are able to sign back, you’ll have to look for developmental clues. Do they mimic you? Reach for what they want? Copy their siblings actions? Boom. They are ready!
Every kid is so different, even between my 4. My kids have all been around age 1, some a few months over age 1, and babbling.
I usually start when they seem to be trying to communicate but can’t. They try to babble, get louder, throw things, screech, and slap.
I also wait till they begin mimicking me. That shows they are developmentally able to sign back!
Since my 15 month old is now mimicking us, he was able to pick up these signs within a couple weeks. We are still working on “more”, but please and all done have just recently clicked! He only babbles now (no words) so this is very helpful!
When I tried a couple months earlier he didn’t seem interested or able to try copying the signs I was doing so I just decided to wait.
Babies can understand more than we know, and can figure out what we are saying and signing before they can physically sign back.
So don’t be afraid to do it too soon! Just know they won’t try to start signing until they are at the mimicking stage.
For us, that’s around a year give or take a few months.
Which 3 signs we’ve focused on and why
These are not the only 3, nor the most important 3 for everyone. Remember it’s about what helps YOU communicate with your baby. So don’t be afraid to try different signs than me. Here’s ours:
1. Signing “more”
Close all your fingers for each hand so the tips touch, as if you are grasping a piece of paper from the sides. Then, with left hand facing the right, clash your finger tips of both hands into each other.
I do this while I say the word, and before I give my baby more food.
Somewhere around a year old, each baby has been up in the highchair…out of food…and the screeching begins to get louder and LOUDER and LOUDER until I can’t ignore it.
This is where signing “more” comes in handy. (We are just teaching my 4th to do this at 15 months). Even today, he ate the toast bit I gave him and was doing that loud “ah-ah-ah-ah” thing.
So I said, “You want more? More toast?” I signed more while saying that, and put some on his tray. He’s still confusing more with all done, and so I will take a guess and try more first.
If he wants it, that’s what he was trying to say. If he throws it, we try “all done”.
2. Signing “all done”
To teach all done, put your hands up on the side of your head and twist them.
When I see my baby start tossing food from the high chair, I ask, “All done?” and take him out.
3. Signing “please”
To sign “please” just rub your hand on your upper chest while saying the word please. We do this specifically to teach them to ask nicely to nurse. Because around age 1 or a little after is when they often get a little rude or slappy.
I didn’t think to start this one with my 4th until he recently started bonking my chest when he wanted to nurse.
Side note: My baby began copying me by rubbing MY chest rather than his. So I took his hand and rubbed it on HIS chest while saying please (a few times) and he learned!
Now each time (when I remember) when it’s time to nurse and he’s in my arms I say “please”.
In all reality, my babies are learning that this is the polite sign for nurse 😉 But it works for us and feel free to use a different sign.
The baby sign for milk
Some moms use the sign for milk to nurse.
I just know this mama isn’t about to use that one (which is squeezing your hand like you’re milking an udder). No thanks…it just doesn’t work for me!
However, since my 15 month old is now JUST starting to drink cow’s milk, I’m going to try using this sign when giving him milk in his high chair. I will update here how it goes, since I’ve not used that sign with my other kids!
Does baby sign language delay speech?
I don’t think this is a concern in the slightest. Kids naturally progress to be verbal. None of my kids have had speech problems due to signing a few things.
They have however thrown less food, been more polite about asking for things, and been able to tell me if they wanted more of something. It’s taken the guess work out of a few common daily needs.
Other first baby signs that may be helpful
- Hungry (putting your fingers to your mouth)
- Drink (pretend sipping a cup)
- Help (one hand is open flat, the other is a thumbs up on the flat hand)
- up (as in want picked up)
For visuals, YouTube what the signs you want to use look like. I also really like the graphics on this baby signing post.
Have you tried any baby signing yet? Or known anyone who’s used them? What are your thoughts?