First Word Milestone

Before the First Word Milestone: How Your Baby Interacts with the World

The first word milestone is a landmark that all parents anxiously wait for. A baby’s first word not only typically occurs at the ever momentous first birthday, but also opens a whole new avenue of interaction between a parent and their child. Although the first word milestone is significant in an infant’s development, there are a surprisingly amount of other communicative milestones which occur before 12 months of age, all of which do not involve human speech. During their first year of life, babies progress through various milestones in interaction-attachment, pragmatics, play, and gestures; improving their ability to communicate before the use of speech.

See the table below for first word milestones in the following areas of language from the ages of First Word Milestonebirth to 12 months of age:

  • Interaction-Attachment: A child’s temperament, the parents’ mode of interaction and the quality of the parent-child attachment
  • Pragmatics: Social language skills needed when interacting with others
  • Play: Types of play children perform
  • Gestures: Non-verbal language interactions


Interaction-Attachment Pragmatics Play
0 – 3 Months Demonstrates brief eye contact when feedingSmiles purposely in response to caregiver The infant makes eye contact with an adultLaughs at humorous interactions and cries to get attention The rattle is an infant’s main play object, showing intermittent interest in other toys.
3 – 6 Months Shows increased smiling when playing and with family membersDemonstrates differentiated responses to various family members Communicates needs and wants through different criesMaintains eye contact Reaches for objects and bangs toys when in reach, typically playing alone
6 – 9 Months Becomes more attached to his or her caregiver, demonstrating some fear when separated and a desire to be with mom or dad Is able to use more than cries to communicate, utilizing shouts or vocalizations to gain attention or protest Interacts more with adults during play, imitating actions such as dropping a toyDisplays increased emotion (smiling, laughter) during play
9 – 12 Months Demonstrates understanding for others’ emotions, such as when a caregiver is angryMay act silly based on his or her audience’s reactions to receive attention Continues to vocalize or babble to gain other’s attention or in response of others.Establishes joint attention with an adult (the shared focus of two individuals on an object) Participates in play routines, such as peek-a-boo, and will imitate play actions (stirring, pushing a car).Demonstrates early turn-taking skills during routines.


The use of gestures in communication occurs between the months of 9 to 12 in an infant’s development. Infants may use gestures when playing games with caregivers, such as peek-a-boo or when expressing needs and wants (e.g., reaching to be picked up, pointing at an object of want, showing a caregiver an object). The use of gestures during social greetings may also be evident (e.g., waving “hi” and “bye”).

These early interactions lay the foundation for the infant’s future communication skills and abilities. Through these early pre-speech milestones, a baby learns fundamental aspects of communication (imitation, joint attention, turn-taking). When a baby cries or vocalizes and a caregiver responses, this is demonstrating the power of communication to that baby. These non-verbal interactions that occur during the first year of life act as conversational-like interactions for the baby. For example, joint attention is crucial in developing more advanced levels of social thinking. Babies learn that when they look at something, look at their caregiver and look back to that object, they are communicating a message and are acknowledging the thoughts of the other person. Failure to reach these early communicative milestones is actually a red flag for disorders which involve difficulties with social interactions, such as autism spectrum disorder.


Click here to view our infographic on speech and language development milestones.




Rossetti, L. M. (1990). The Rossetti infant-toddler language scale: A measure of communication and interaction. East Moline, IL: LinguiSystems.