Why Can’t I Talk to My Baby? A Surprising Reason

Postpartum depression is one of the most common complications after birth. The lack of talking to a baby can negatively impact their language development without intervention. Here’s what you can do.

Talking and cooing with your baby is what many parents envision will come naturally once the squishy bundle arrives. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported in 2003 that 20% of mothers, 1 in 5, experience postpartum depression and or anxiety once their child is born.

Parenthood in the first weeks, and fourth trimester, of a baby’s life, are challenging. Some postpartum mood disorders show up in the earlier span of the postpartum time, and some show up later, after six months, when sleep deprivation or postpartum insomnia is added to the mixed.

mom talking to newborn baby

When a parent is stressed, anxious, and or depressed, they often provide a proportionally stimulating language environment for their developing child. The more stress and mental preoccupation within a parent, the less mental bandwidth there is to do things like sing songs, read books, or talk and play with their baby.

The more stress and mental preoccupation, the less mental bandwidth there is to do things like sing songs, read books, or talk and play with their baby.

Emily Adler Mosqueda

Unless you’ve read up on child language development, many first-time parents don’t realize how important it is to stimulate a baby’s language system from day one consciously, and we’re not talking about from birth. A baby’s hearing, if unimpaired, is well developed by the end of the first trimester. As a result, at birth, infants orient to familiar voices.

Limited knowledge of developmental milestones, sleep deprivation, and a diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health issue can result in low infant vocabulary by 18 months.

dad talking to baby on bed

What do you do if you don’t talk to your baby?

If you’re not currently engaging or speaking with your baby, consider the below three points to help encourage communication.

1. Self-care is caring for your baby

From the vantage point of an ecological theory of child development, what happens to a child’s adult happens to them. Like all ecosystems, each person in the family interacts and influences one another.  

Designed in the late 1970s by American psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner, the Ecology of Human Development theory aims to approach child development per multiple environments.

That being said, when a depressed and or overwhelmed parent takes time and space to rest, resource, and recharge themselves, they have more brainpower to engage with life, including engaging with their baby. Taking time away to attend a counseling session, going for a walk alone or with a friend, or to sleep will support your baby because when you reunite with them, you’ll be refreshed.

People are usually more talkative when they’re rested. Here are some tips on getting started with postpartum self-care.

2. Get your village involved

Infants need various communication partners to learn a language and social exchanges. When maternal postpartum mental health issues are identified (paternal postpartum depression is also possible and often under-identified) clinically or subclinical, it’s good to make a plan for the baby’s communication intervention.

Map out regular interactions for the baby with various familiar, caring adults. If one parent is not having a particularly good day or is taking some self-care time, another parent, extended family member (biological or chosen), or friend can offer short, regular language experiences to the baby.

One or two visits a day with resourced adults can support a child living among depressed adults. This time could include book reading, singing, feeding, or just talking to the baby.

If your community is small or unable to support you regularly, hiring quality help is an option. Ideally, it would be someone who has knowledge and experience with children and understands the value of language activities like talking to babies, reading, and responding to their coos and vocalizations.

3. Pick a time that’s best for you

For new or repeat parents, a new baby is a big transition. Brainstorm times of your day when you have the most energy to give a little extra attention to your baby’s development.

Next, think about a routine/activity both you and your baby enjoy. These are the times of day and types of interactions when you can most support language development.

A routine of verbal engagement with your child is a great early intervention. This could look like:

  • Reading books earlier in the day
  • Narrating what the baby’s looking at
  • Talking about what you see on a walk
  • Singing a song with an animated face and tone of voice
mom reading a book to her baby

The importance of talking to your baby

Language is a unique quality of being human. Whether spoken or signed, language gives us access to each other, our cultures, communities, and ourselves. Babies truly are sponges. Their brains are making so many connections in the first few weeks and months of life; they really are different in the evening than when they woke up in the morning.

Talking with a partner and the other adults in your baby’s life about the importance of language input is a gift everyone can give to help the child grow. 

Are you typically a quiet person?

For some inherently quiet people, choose some times in the day to be more talkative.

For example, choose baby books that have pages of single images and a single word or a word book like this one. Use those pages as springboards to then point out and label that same item in the room where you are. Describe how, where, when, and who uses/needs/wants the pictured item.

Your baby will let you know when they’ve had enough talking time.

mom communicating with newborn baby

More ideas to support early language development

Times of talking, stories, and singing are good, and so is quiet time. Playing music around a young child is also valuable if some times of the day you’re too tired to talk. There are even proven benefits of music for mom and baby.

Also, it’s important to share openly about a history of depression or concerns of postpartum mood disorders, of any degree, with your child’s pediatrician. It’s their job to ensure your baby is on track developmentally.

If, after a few visits, you still don’t feel comfortable with your pediatrician and sharing about how things really are, consider changing care providers. Also, pay close attention to risk factors for perinatal mood disorders.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has wonderful free educational materials on developmental milestones online. These great resources can orient you and other adults in the child’s life.

You can learn all the amazing things your child will be doing across all areas of development, not just communication. Being familiar with these milestones helps families know what to expect at a particular age and what to look forward to. 

Familiarity with milestones helps families and professionals identify areas of concern early on. If concerns persist, your child’s doctor can make a referral for communication and or developmental evaluation by an early intervention evaluation team that should include a speech-language pathologist.

Emily Adler Mosqueda

Emily Adler Mosqueda, M.S., CCC-SLP is a bilingual and bicultural pediatric speech-language pathologist, associate clinical professor, and mother of two. She holds state and national certifications and began her career in 2009. Since experiencing postpartum depression late in her second postpartum, Emily has become an advocate for the postpartum time. She teaches about parental mental health factors to her graduate speech-language pathology students. In 2021, she created Instagram account @postpartum365 where she shares peer-reviewed research on postpartum topics, in an effort to shift the cultural understanding of how long the postpartum time lasts and the issues that can, and do arise, after six months postpartum. Emily is the author of the free children’s book My Big Feelings and The Big Bad Virus available at mybigfeelings.com in English and Spanish. For fun, Emily enjoys rafting with daughters and husband in the Pacific Northwest, photography, and free writing. Connect with her and hear authentic shares of motherhood on Instagram @emily.adler.mosqueda and read some of her writing at emilyadlermosqueda.com.

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