When Amberly was first signing milk at 4 1/2 months I didn't know that was amazingly early to be signing, let alone mom or dad even using signs with her. Now Owen has set the bar even higher; he began signing milk at 8 weeks! How is this possible you might ask? Starting from day one and taking advantage of repetition of the many feedings a newborn needs helps quite a bit. Dad would also sign milk just before giving the bottle, both of us sure to sign it just before feeding. Ever notice that your baby quickly learned that when you put them in the cradle position that they knew milk would be coming right after and they would open their mouth in anticipation? Babies can make associations super early; even mimic facial expressions very early. We would take advantage of this with all of our babies and play the stick your tongue out game, which a baby will imitate at birth. Notice babies will also raise their eyebrows relatively soon after beginning to smile when imitating your questioning voice. Most babies will begin opening and closing their fist for practice of grasping at about 7 to 8 weeks... and since that is the close resemblance to signing milk, it is a perfect opportunity to give praise of baby signing, even if by coincidence while nursing or feeding from a bottle. At approximately 5 weeks I knew for certain that Owen recognized the sign for milk as his facial expression would change, he would get more eager to push down into the cradle position and he'd kick out his legs. Then at 7 weeks when he began regularly opening and closing his fists I would tap his hand while he nursed and say "that's milk". So after a few days of this I noticed he appeared to sign milk right after I had signed it to offer him the breast.... but even I, mother to 3, didn't know if I was sure of what I'd seen. Then Wednesday the 15th of April we were at a play date and Owen appeared hungry. My friend Tressa stopped mid sentence and asked, "Did he just sign milk, I think I just saw an 8 week old sign milk!?" in amazement. I explained to her what I'd been witnessing over the last several days, a total of about 4 times and she said it was clear that Owen had looked at what I was signing and responded in like. Now that I had another eye witness I relayed the story to my husband and he said he thought he'd seen Owen do it the day before just before having the bottle. With 3 adults having separate accounts of Owen signing I no longer had any doubt or thought I might just be too proud of my little genius. I'd forgotten my own philosophy that babies are born smart, they just need the right stimuli to encourage use of their brain for optimum growth and learning. Some other signs that Owen enjoys using are "bless you" and "gas" (you know how much little ones can toot and sometimes even get caught off gaurd). If you didn't start from birth, by no means is it too late, babies have things to say, we have a tool to bridge that gap of understanding.
Joann Woolley is owner and instructor
of Sign4Baby in San Diego teaching parents how to communicate with their
preverbal baby using American Sign Language. With her in depth
knowledge of ASL as her first language she takes you beyond just the
basics in signing, also filling your parenting tool belt with parenting
tips and tricks coupled with signing as a great boundary teaching
(discipline) tool for toddlers. Look for her webinar launching this Spring. View the schedule of classes at Sign4Baby