Understanding ‘Ba Ba Ba’ as a Key to Development

Baby babble developmentBy PERRI KLASS, M.D.

As a pediatrician, I always ask about babble. “Is the baby making sounds?” I ask the parent of a 4-month-old, a 6-month-old, a 9-month-old. The answer is rarely no. But if it is, it’s important to try to find out what’s going on.

If a baby isn’t babbling normally, something may be interrupting what should be a critical chain: not enough words being said to the baby, a problem preventing the baby from hearing what’s said, or from processing those words. Something wrong in the home, in the hearing or perhaps in the brain.

Babble is increasingly being understood as an essential precursor to speech, and as a key predictor of both cognitive and social emotional development. And research is teasing apart the phonetic components of babble, along with the interplay of neurologic, cognitive and social factors.

The first thing to know about babble is also the first thing scientists noticed: babies all over the world babble in similar ways. During the second year of life, toddlers shape their sounds into the words of their native tongues.

The word “babble” is both significant and representative — repetitive syllables, playing around with the same all-important consonants. (Indeed, the word seems to be derived not from the biblical Tower of Babel, as folk wisdom has it, but from the “ba ba” sound babies make.)

Some of the most exciting new research, according to D. Kimbrough Oller, a professor ofaudiology and speech-language pathology at the University of Memphis, analyzes the sounds that babies make in the first half-year of life, when they are “squealing and growling and producing gooing sounds.” These sounds are foundations of later language, he said, and they figure in all kinds of social interactions and play between parents and babies — but they do not involve formed syllables, or anything that yet sounds like words.

“By the time you get past 6 months of age, babies begin to produce canonical babbling, well-formed syllables,” Professor Oller said. “Parents don’t treat those earlier sounds as words; when canonical syllables begin to appear, parents recognize the syllables as negotiable.” That is, when the baby says something like “ba ba ba,” the parent may see it as an attempt to name something and may propose a word in response.

Most of the time, I ask parents: “Does he make noise? Does she sound like she’s talking?” And most of the time, parents nod and smile, acknowledging the baby voices that have become part of the family conversation.

But the new research suggests a more detailed line of questions: by 7 months or so, have the sounds developed into that canonical babble, including both vowels and consonants? Babies who go on vocalizing without many consonants, making only aaa and ooo sounds, are not practicing the sounds that will lead to word formation, not getting the mouth muscle practice necessary for understandable language to emerge.

“A baby hears all these things and is able to differentiate them before the baby can produce them,” said Carol Stoel-Gammon, an emeritus professor of speech and hearing sciences at the University of Washington. “To make an m, you have to close your mouth and the air has to come out your nose. It’s not in your brain somewhere — you have to learn it.”

The consonants in babble mean the baby is practicing, shaping different sounds by learning to maneuver the mouth and tongue, and listening to the results. “They get there by 12 months,” Professor Stoel-Gammon continued, “and to me the reason they get there is because they have become aware of the oral motor movements that differentiate between a b and an m.”

Babies have to hear real language from real people to learn these skills. Television doesn’t do it, and neither do educational videos: recent research suggests that this learning is in part shaped by the quality and context of adult response.

To study babbling, researchers have begun to look at the social response — at the baby and the parent together. Michael H. Goldstein, an assistant professor of psychology at Cornell, has done experiments showing that babies learn better from parental stimulation — acquiring new sounds and new sound patterns, for example — if parents provide that stimulation specifically in response to the baby’s babble.

“In that moment of babbling, babies seem to be primed to take in more information,” he said. “It’s about creating a social interaction where now you can learn new things.”

A study this year by this group looked at how babies learn the names of new objects. Again, offering the new vocabulary words specifically in response to the babies’ own vocalizations meant the babies learned the names better.

The experimenters argue that a baby’s vocalizations signal a state of focused attention, a readiness to learn language. When parents respond to babble by naming the object at hand, the argument goes, children are more likely to learn words. So if a baby looks at an apple and says, “Ba ba!” it’s better to respond by naming the apple than by guessing, for example, “Do you want your bottle?”

“We think that babies tend to emit babbles when they’re in a state where they’re ready to learn new information, they’re aroused, they’re interested,” Professor Goldstein said. “When babies are interested in something, they tend to do a furrowed brow,” he continued; parents should understand that babble may be “an acoustic version of furrowing one’s brow.”

Right there, in the exam room, I have that essential experimental combination, the baby and the parent. It’s an opportunity to check up on the baby’s progress in forming sounds, but also an opportunity to help parents respond to the baby’s interest in learning how to name the world — a universal human impulse expressed in the canonical syllables of a universal human soundtrack.

In Young Kids, Lack Of Sleep Linked To Obesity Later

Lack of sleep and obesityby Patti Neighmond

Can you sleep away pounds? Well, not exactly, but research has shown that people who sleep a good eight hours-plus are more likely to maintain a normal weight than those who sleep less than eight hours a night. Now, a new study finds that even for infants and preschoolers, a good, long night’s sleep may be just as important as diet and physical activity.

Over the past three decades, obesity rates have doubled among children age 2 to 5, and tripled among 6- to 11-year-olds. So University of Washington maternal and child health researcher Janice Bell wanted to know whether sleep had anything to do with it.

She looked at federal data collected on nearly 2,000 children and compared those who slept 10 hours or more a night with those who slept less. She also looked at how much the children weighed over a five-year period. The most striking findings had to do with infants and toddlers. The study appears in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

“They were nearly twice as likely to move from normal weight to overweight, or overweight to obese in that five-year period,” she says.

Can’t Catch Up With Naps

This is also an important message to parents, Bell says, to encourage them to help their children get on routine schedules of a long and solid night’s sleep. Especially, she says, because it turned out that napping during the day did not reduce the risk that these kids would gain weight.

“We found that their napping didn’t have any effect on their later obesity, whereas the nighttime sleep was significant,” Bell says. That led her to conclude that napping didn’t seem to be a substitute for nighttime sleep in terms of obesity prevention.

Psychiatrist Emmanuel Mignot, who directs the Center for Sleep Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine, suggests that one reason naps may not work is because daytime sleep is qualitatively different than nighttime sleep. Mignot says that sleeping at night is deeper and therefore more restorative than sleeping during the day. It makes sense, he says, that one can’t “make up” for lost sleep by dozing during the day or even having scheduled naps as toddlers often do.

Why The Connection?

Bell’s study didn’t examine the reasons why children who sleep less have an increased risk of gaining weight within just a few years, but she does have some theories.

“It may be that children who don’t sleep enough at night are too tired to engage in the kind of physical activity that may prevent obesity,” Bell says. She adds that another reason may be the result of the relationships between hormones that control appetite and sleep.

Mignot says that studies done in his sleep lab found that if you sleep less, certain hormones like leptin and ghrelin change in a way that stimulates appetite. Leptin, which is a starvation signal, decreases and gives you the feeling that you should eat more. At the same time, levels of ghrelin, which stimulate the appetite, increase.

It’s an unfortunate combination adding up to an increased risk of weight gain. Mignot’s studies were done in adults, but he says a similar hormonal shift likely takes place in children as well. This hormonal shift also increases cravings for unhealthy foods like those high in salt, sugar and fat.

On average, Mignot says children up to age 5 need at least 10 hours of sleep a night. Infants and young toddlers, of course, need even more.

TV Ratings: A Guide for Parents

While family is the most important influence in a child’s life, media in all its forms, including TV, computers, and other screens, are not far behind. Because media can influence how children think, feel, and behave, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages parents to help their children form healthy media use habits early on.

TV Parental Guidelines

The TV Parental Guidelines (see chart below) rating system was created to help parents choose programs that are suitable for children. The ratings are usually included in local TV listings. Remember that ratings are not used for news programs, which may not be suitable for young children.

All TVs 13 inches or larger made in the United States after 2000 are required by federal law to have a V-chip. The V-chip allows parents to block programs based on ratings or times or to block specific shows.

For more information, go to the FCC Parents’ Place Web site athttp://reboot.fcc.gov/parents.

Going From Mom, To Moment Master: Choosing a Camera

Moms and camerasby Angie of “More Sugar Than Spice”

For those of you who don’t know me, I am a MOPS mommy through and through. Four years ago when I walked into my first MOPS group I was in a very dark place emotionally. I had started staying home with my daughter six months prior, and let’s just say it was not going as I had fantasized it would for all of those years I’d been working in the corporate world. After my first meeting, I cried.

Not because it was bad, but because it made me realize just how alone I had been. I was living in complete isolation, and the fact that I didn’t need to be, was now right there in my face.

Fast forward, and we are getting ready to kick off my fourth year in MOPS, and this is my third year serving in leadership. My hope is that it will reach a point where no mommy feels the way that I felt that morning.

All of that to say that my time in leadership has helped me not only grow as a mommy, but as a photographer, and it eventually led to launching More Sugar Than Spice Photography.

This month, I am writing a multi-post series on my blogGoing From Mom, To Moment Master, which I would like to dedicate to the many moms I have served, and will continue to serve this year. My prayer is this series will empower you to do something for your family that only you can do—preserve the little moments that typically only a mommy gets to see. The good, the bad and the ugly.

Let’s start at the beginning, Choosing A Camera

After looking at photographers rates, have you decided hiring a professional just doesn’t fit into your do-it-yourself budget? Do you want to document every day happenings with your precious little ones before they are no longer little (and precious)? Is your camera so old that the expense to have the film processed, combined with the disappointing result, makes you rely on others to capture special days? If any of those things sound familiar to you, it may be time to budget for a new camera. Don’t worry, even small budgets can secure your perfect camera…when you shop smart.

To get started, ask yourself these questions:

Who will be taking the majority of the pictures?

If the answer is you, then you need to be the one to go and purchase the camera. Do not put this on the holiday shopping list for your husband, unless you know exactly which one you want!

That sounds silly, but when I was making my camera purchase, I had narrowed it down to a Canon or Nikon and I was having a hard time deciding between the two. Off to the camera store I went, where reps from both companies admitted their products were pretty comparable for what I needed, and they agreed the best thing for me to do was pick it up and see which one felt better in my hands.

The same is true with a point and shoot camera. These days the cameras keep getting smaller and smaller. This is great for portability, but I have a hard time trying to press a button the size of a pencil tip when I have a baby on my hip and a 20lb bag on my shoulder.

When it comes to camera brands, a name is just a name. For the most part, the major players (Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus and Kodak) all have a camera that compares with their counterparts in each category. There are slight differences among them, but for the most part, you can’t go wrong with the name brands you’ve heard of in the camera industry as long as you get a camera geared towards your needs.

Bottom line: The main user of the camera needs to make the trip to the store and pick up as many cameras as possible before making a final decision. Don’t just buy the camera your neighbor has because she says it’s great…because it probably is great—for her. You need to find a camera that is great for you, and that requires you shop around.

What will the camera be used for?

If you are like me, my favorite photos are ones I’ve taken of my kids…and I can’t have too many! We’ll talk about how to store all of those images later in this series, but for now let’s stay focused on the camera.

When I am on the prowl for new equipment, I want something that can move FAST, like they do. Be sure and check out the specs on shutter lag because nothing drives me crazier than pushing the button, and having the kids run off before the camera does its job.

If you are more of a landscape mama, perhaps the shutter lag isn’t as important to you, but a good zoom or a good macro feature (or lens on a DSLR) will work wonders. You may also need to budget for a tripod, but we’ll talk accessories later in the series.

When you are checking out these camera stats, avoid the store specs if possible. Those are provided by the manufacturer…which is great, but I prefer to look at what real users are actually getting out of the camera. www.dpreview.com and www.steves-digicams.com are two of my faves for the low-down, although there are many sites out there that can provide great information.

Be sure and check out what kind of batteries the camera takes. There is something to be said about being able to stop at the corner convenience store for standard sized batteries on the way to the school play, as opposed to having to find a place to plug in once you arrive. This is something that often gets overlooked, but can really make (or break) the mama-camera relationship over time.

Whether you are a soccer mom, or you just have to capture every single nose crinkle your child makes (like me!), a burst mode can come in very handy. This means you can press the button once, and the camera will take several sequential pictures. This is a very fun feature for making things like storyboards and scrapbooks, and most cameras have some version of this feature.

I absolutely love my DSLR. I know that is the right camera for my business. However, I have to say that there are moments where I wish that I could just throw it in my pocket or purse and get out of capturing the moment, and back into living the moment! With DSLR prices dropping, it’s tempting to run out and buy one. Just know when you do, you’re going to need to also purchase some new luggage, because they are large, heavy and require a little more tender loving care than point and shoot camera.

Are mega-pixels mega-confusing? They don’t have to be. While this will be one of the first stats thrown at you, keep in mind most mamas get by just fine with about 7 megapixels. Anything close to or over 15 is far more than most mamas need. There’s a good chance you won’t notice the difference in your typical print sizes. You will however notice how fast you fill up your computer with those large image files, so try to avoid thinking the more mega-pixels you have, the better.

Bottom line: The best camera on the market (or the most you can afford) may not be the best fit for you. Just because a DSLR is in your price range, you should not run out and purchase one tomorrow. Think about what you are hoping to capture, and make sure your equipment is in line with that goal.

How will the camera be used?

No matter how you plan to use your camera, keep in mind your camera will at some point be abused. If at all possible, spring for the titanium case instead of plastic. When you catch your kids using your camera as a hockey puck on the hardwood floor, you won’t be sorry.

Even now, when I want to capture a quick picture, I will use the full auto mode on my camera. This feature takes most of the guess work out of taking pictures. However, you can skimp on some of the other features (like flash lighting) if you purchase a camera that can go at least partially into a manual mode. That way you can force your camera into capturing the shots you’d like, even when in less than perfect conditions.

Bottom line: Size and toughness matters. Going manual can be intimidating, but some manual features will help you preserve those moments that are normally hard to capture due to poor light.

No matter what camera you purchase, I cannot stress enough how important it is to read the manual. I know that sounds daunting, especially when you have little ‘helping hands’, but nothing says you can’t read it while waiting in the carpool line or while walking on the treadmill. The fact is, no matter how great of a camera you purchase, if you don’t know how to use it, you may be missing out on something that can take you from mom to moment master.

Already own a camera? Check out my blog for the next article in this series.