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Did the hypertension I developed during pregnancy affect my son’s speech?
Q: My 20–month-old son says, “Ma” and “Da,” but everything else is the sound of a chicken (“thaka, thaka, thaka, thak, tha”). It’s cute, but I’m worried about his speech development. In my last trimester, I developed primary pulmonary hypertension. My 4-year-old daughter started talking very much before the age of 2. I understand all children develop at their own pace, but I wonder whether my illness had any effect on his development.
A: You are right in saying that all children develop at their own pace, and nowhere is this more apparent than in language development. Furthermore, for some reason, boys on the average develop language skills more slowly than girls. So you need to be careful not to compare your son, not yet 2 years old, with his older sister.

As for his strange chicken-like sound, I haven’t a clue as to what it might signify. I guess it could be simply that he cannot yet produce the sounds he wants to produce (regular words) but wants to “say” something and is content with these strange sounds. I think I would play a little game with him that would go something like this: “Words stand for things. ‘Ma-ma’ stands for me. ‘Milk’ stands for what is in this carton. (Give some more examples.) Now, show me what ‘thaka’ stands for.” You probably wouldn’t get any kind of meaningful response the first time you tried it, so do it in a low-key fashion several times. Then you want to make certain that you speak distinctly to him, perhaps slowing down the tempo of your speech a bit and exaggerating your lip and mouth movements as you talk to him. And be sure to look right at him when you talk in order for him to see your lip movements. Read to him daily and teach him little songs. He won’t be able to pronounce the words now, but the rhythm and the tune will help him learn to formulate them.

It would be difficult at this point in time for anyone to say whether your pulmonary hypertension affected your son. Hypertension is associated with some of the disorders of pregnancy and delivery—like pre-eclampsia and eclampsia—that can cause developmental problems. But plenty of children whose mothers experience such difficulty show perfectly normal development. And usually the infant’s condition (sluggish, low Apgar score, unusual crying, etc.) at the time of birth gives some indication of whether there has been a problem. So probably the only person who could answer that question for you would be your obstetrician.