Dads: Talk to Your Babies

Dad playing with young son

Speak up, dads. Your babies will benefit from hearing your voice and words. A study published in the journal Pediatrics says there’s a baby talk gap between mothers and fathers and that dads need to talk more to their infants.

Since mothers do more hands-on infant care, it’s only natural that most of the words and “baby talk” that babies hear come from their moms. But the study of 33 families over seven months found that moms still talked more to their babies even when dads were present.

Early Language Exposure Linked to Future Academic Success

We already know how incredibly important talking to babies is for their language development. In 1995, a widely publicized study showed that intelligence and academic success are strongly linked to the number of words a small child hears — and that children whose families are affluent hear 30 million more words by age 3 than children from poor families.

This new research is another way to look at the effects of early language exposure, and it found that even when moms and dads are together with their babies, babies hear three times more words from mom than from dad.

See how the findings from the study compare with your own experience:

  • Adults responded to about a quarter of an infant’s vocalizations.
  • More than 70 percent of these responses came from mothers alone, 18 percent to 23 percent from both parents, and 6 percent to 12 percent from fathers alone.
  • Mothers responded to a little coo or cry immediately; dads took a little time.
  • Infants responded more to their mother’s voices compared to their father’s.
  • Mothers responded more often to girls than boys; dads more to boys. But in either case, the difference was not significant, according to the researchers.

The data, 3,000 hours of recordings, was collected from the families for three days — once after a baby’s birth, a few weeks later, and at 7 months. Both parents were present for each visit. The researchers, from the Women & Infants Hospital in Providence, RI, noted limitations of their study — it was small and only included families having a male and female parent living together.

While it doesn’t represent all family living arrangements, the study is regarded as providing a window into babies’ language environments — and as such it does send a clear message to dads: You’re very important in your infant’s developing language skills, and it doesn’t take parenting classes to learn to talk to your baby. Just do it!

author name

Jennifer S. Ammons, MD

Jennifer S. Ammons, MD, FAAP, is a pediatrician with Roseville Pediatrics.

Education: She is board-certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and a fellow with the American Academy of Pediatrics. Her special interests include child safety, infectious diseases, and immunizations. She is a graduate of the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

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