Motherese is an informal term for the kind of language that mothers (and other caretakers) use when speaking to babies. Motherese, which many mothers do automatically, is an effective way of communicating with your baby. Even though he won't understand the meaning of your words yet, motherese can make language more accessible to your baby.
Voice Pitch & Facial Expressions
Most babies are naturally drawn to high-pitched voices. Women generally have higher-pitched voices than men; when speaking to their babies, many mothers pitch their voices even higher. There are exceptions to this; try out low pitches, and see what your baby favors.
Exaggerated expressiveness is another aspect of motherese. Babies respond to facial expressions that are larger than life. Widen your eyes to show delight or surprise, and exaggerate the mouthing of some words. For your newborn baby, the content of what you say isn't important. With eye contact and the right tone of voice, you'll keep your baby fascinated no matter what you're talking about.
How To Speak Motherese
Carry on conversations as if you were both speaking. Ask a question, leave a pause for the answer (looking at your baby for his response), and then give the answer. "Do you want some water?" (pause). "You do?" (pause). "Of course you can have some water!" Sometimes your baby will answer with a sound. Listen for his answer, and remark on it. Say it back to him.
Try using smaller words and simpler sentences. Talk about things that are part of your baby's experience. That way, as your baby gets older, he'll be able to pick out repeated sounds and familiar words.
Baby talk—saying bottie to mean bottle—isn't a necessary part of motherese. Of course, as your baby makes sounds and associates certain sounds with particular meanings, you may take a cue from him. If he calls his stuffed lamb "baba", you can use the term too.
Don't distort language to imitate a child's speech (yitto instead of little). Your child needs to hear the correct pronunciation of words so he'll eventually be able to say them.
Motherese generally involves a slight bending of grammatical rules, again something many mothers do instinctively. Pronouns are scarce. "Mommy will carry Peter's truck" is easier for a baby to understand than "Let me carry it for you."
Take Cues From Your Child
If your baby seems to be losing interest in a conversation—if he's yawning or looking away—it's probably time to stop talking. The point of motherese, as with any language, is two-way communication. Show your baby that he can communicate his moods and needs by responding to his signals.
As your child understands more, you can raise the level of conversation as well as the complexity of the grammar you use. That way you continue modeling speech for him, while responding to his ability to understand.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.