Your Brilliant Baby in Week 9: Cooing and Parentese

What your infant learns this week.

Baby’s Brain in Week 9

As your baby approaches her second month, she may begin cooing. Cooing—making those “oooh” and other vowel-type sounds—doesn’t magically happen: It’s a reaction to the “parentese” you’ve been using with your child since birth.

What’s motherese, fatherese, parentese, or caregiverese? It’s the singsongy way people, even young siblings, talk to babies. It’s what they bring—beyond loving, attentive care—to the baby-caregiver connection. It’s when parents intuitively raise their eyebrows, open their eyes wide, and talk melodically in a high pitch with over-accentuated wording. No one teaches people to speak this way, but even across cultures, loving caregivers instinctively do it.

What the Research Shows

Researchers put one college football player at a time in a research laboratory with a contented baby, with the simple instructions to just stay there. After a while, the babies (being babies, after all) fussed for food, comfort, or socialization. At first, each football player was reluctant to approach the baby: Most looked around in hopes that the parent would appear. When no one came to their rescue, player after player made his best effort to speak to the baby using parentese. Until that moment the football players may not have even realized they knew how to speak this way!

Does this experiment prove that all humans come equipped with the ability to connect naturally with babies? Probably not. But it does explain that even the seemingly antithesis of mother figures—macho football players—appear to have the intuitive skill of talking to an infant in a special, soothing way.

Week 9 Brain Booster

Go ahead—give in to your parentese instincts. When you hear Baby coo, talk to her in your singsong way and listen for her to coo back. This is the beginning of “conversation” that validates your child, proves your interest in her, and further develops your bond. When speaking parentese, you’re actually imitating Baby’s vocal productions. This is not only flattering to her (“Oh! She likes that sound!”) but also encourages her to vocalize more and further connect with you. And so begins your communication with one another: Later, you and your child will swap high-pitched tones and cooing for real language—and a different type of parentese entirely.