Baby Sign Language: How to Communicate Before Baby Starts Talking

Baby sign language is an awesome tool to use before baby can say words. Follow our step-by-step guide, which includes a visual cheat sheet, to teach it to your baby.

Baby sign language is an awesome tool to use before baby can say words. Follow our step-by-step guide to teach it to your baby, includes visual cheat sheet!

How many times have you wished that your crying baby could just tell you what was wrong? Baby sign language is a great tool to establish communication between you and your baby before they start talking, and we’ve got the low-down, including:

Baby Sign Language Basics

It’s a version of typical American Sign Language (“ASL”) that’s simplified for baby’s hands and motor skills. It helps parents and caregivers communicate with babies who are not yet verbal or who are just starting to talk.

Benefits for Baby

1. Improves self-esteem

Some experts believe that this type of communication improves baby’s self-esteem, because it helps them feel seen and heard and shows that their parents are attentive to their needs. It’s also a confidence booster, as they’re gaining and mastering a new skill.

2. Improves mood

Because temper tantrums typically stem from the frustration of not being able to communicate their needs, this type of communication can potentially reduce the frequency and intensity of temper tantrums.

It helps you keep your calm, too, because you’re not trying to figure out what’s bothering baby and growing increasingly frustrated trying to interpret their cries.

3. May help baby talk sooner

While some experts believe that this reinforcement and repetition can help babies talk sooner, the research is mixed. One thing is certain, though: It doesn’t delay verbal skills. (source) Can’t hurt to try, right?!

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When to Start Teaching It

Your baby’s eyesight and motor skills have to be developed enough for them to observe and participate.

Most babies are developmentally ready for parents to begin signing around four months, though baby won’t likely be able to sign back until they’re seven to nine months old.

How to It to Your Child

1. Start with the familiar

What are the activities and objects that baby does or sees on a regular basis? Start there. Start by introducing signs baby will frequently use, such as “more,” “milk,” “mom,” or “dad,” so you’ll have ample opportunities to use those signs.

2. Repeat, repeat, repeat

Repetition is key. Repeat those first few signs often—even if it doesn’t seem like baby is picking up on it. You might be tempted to try a different sign if baby isn’t picking up on the first signs you introduced, but it’s important to stick to the basics. Once baby has mastered the initial 4-5 signs, then you can expand their vocabulary and add another 4-5 into the rotation.

3. Keep your cool

Don’t expect your child to master this process over night—it’s a slow process. Keep it fun and encourage baby. Praise baby when they understand and/or repeat your actions. Keep a smile on your face, and make sure that you’re holding your hands where baby can see them.

Baby Sign Language Flash Cards

These words are very relevant to baby’s routine, so you’ll naturally use them often. Remember: Repetition is key.

More

Baby Sign Language more card – Mama Natural

Keep your fingers straight and press your fingers to your thumbs. Then open and close your hands repeatedly with your thumbs turned towards your body. It’s kind of like making an alligator mouth, only turned on its side.

Eat

Baby Sign Language eat card – Mama Natural

With the same hand shape used in the sign for “more,” turn your fingers to face the sky and tap them repeatedly against your lips.

Hungry

Baby Sign Language hungry card – Mama Natural

Press your palm flat against your chest, under your chin, and slide it down to your belly. Think of your hand following the path that food makes.

Milk

Baby Sign Language milk card – Mama Natural

If you’ve ever milked a cow, you’ll recognize the sign for “milk.” Think of milking an udder. Make a fist with your hand, thumb facing you and fingers tucked behind your thumb, and open and close it as if milking a cow.

Water

Baby Sign Language water card – Mama Natural

Think “W” for water. The sign for water is done by making a “W” with your three middle fingers, pressing your pinkie and thumb together out of sight, and tapping your hand against your chin.

Please

Baby Sign Language please card – Mama Natural

When your baby has learned the signs for “eat,” “milk,” and “water,” you can move to asking them to say “please” before fulfilling their request. Simply press the palm of one hand flat against your chest and move it in a circular motion.

Thank You

Baby Sign Language thank you card – Mama Natural

After they’ve said “please,” reward them with your thanks. Tap your fingers to your chin and then make the same motions as blowing a kiss.

All Done

Baby Sign Language all done card – Mama Natural

Hold both hands up at chest level, fingers extended and palms facing you. Then flip them out, so the palms face your baby.

Change

Baby Sign Language change card – Mama Natural

This is a more complicated sign. Curl the fingers of both hands into a ball, leaving your index finger out. Tuck it into a hook shape, then cross your hands at the wrists and switch them, top to bottom, several times.

Potty

Baby Sign Language potty card – Mama Natural

Ever played, “I’ve got your nose,” with your baby? The same hand shape, thumb tucked between your first two fingers, is used to sign potty. Form the shape with your hand and then shake it back and forth several times like you’re ringing a bell.

Bath

Baby Sign Language bath card – Mama Natural

Form both hands into fists, then imagine an old washboard, or scrubbing baby’s back. Rub your hands vertically up and down your torso.

Play

Baby Sign Language play card – Mama Natural

Hang ten, dude. There’s a reason that hand shape, thumbs and pinkies extended, other fingers tucked in, became the symbol of California surfer dudes. When you make the shape with both hands and twist them back and forth at the wrists, it means “play.”

Sleep

Baby Sign Language sleep card – Mama Natural

Start with your fingers open, palm facing you, at your forehead. Then draw them down your face, closing them as you go. Think of eyes closing in sleep.

Book

Baby Sign Language book card – Mama Natural

Press your palms together, fingers flat, and then make the motion of opening them. Keep the bottom edge of your palms touching just like a book’s spine.

Daddy

Baby Sign Language daddy card – Mama Natural

To make the sign for daddy hold your hand up with your fingers spread. Palm facing towards the side, tap your thumb to your forehead.

Mommy

Baby Sign Language mommy card – Mama Natural

The sign for “mommy” is the same as the sign for “daddy”—the only difference is that you tap your thumb to your chin.

Dog

Baby Sign Language dog card – Mama Natural

The sign for dog is made by putting one hand down by your leg and snapping your fingers, just like you’re calling your dog inside. Snap with your thumb and middle finger.

Cat

Baby Sign Language cat card – Mama Natural

The sign for cat mimics the whiskers on your cat’s face. Place one hand by your mouth where a cat’s whiskers grow. Think of drawing your hand outwards, like you’re running your fingers along the whiskers, while simultaneously pinching your index finger and thumb together.

I Love You

Baby Sign Language i love you card – Mama Natural

Think of one of the most natural expressions of love—a hug. Cross your arms in front of your chest, hands balled up as if you’re hugging yourself.

Yes

Baby Sign Language yes card – Mama Natural

How do we often indicate “yes,” even when speaking? By nodding our head up and down. The sign for “yes,” makes the same motion only with your hand. Form one hand into a ball and hold it up near your shoulder, then wag it up and down as if you were nodding your head “yes.”

Help

Baby Sign Language help card – Mama Natural

How often does your baby reach out their arms and ask to be lifted up? The sign for “help” is similar. Place your dominant hand, curled into a thumbs up, on top of the flat palm of your non-dominant hand. Have them down by your waist, then move them both up your body like the bottom hand is lifting the top hand.

Baby Sign Language Chart

Top 20 Baby Signs Sign Language Chart by Mama Natural

Want to keep everything in one convenient place? Print out a PDF of our handy chart, so you can refer to it while you teach baby to communicate.

➜ Click here to download a PDF of this chart.

And Don’t Forget…

If you’re getting discouraged, take a deep breath and keep at it. Sign language takes patience and lots of repetition. Even if it seems like baby isn’t grasping the concept at first, you might be surprised when they sign “milk” out of the blue! Your hard work will eventually pay off.

Genevieve Howland

About the Author

Genevieve Howland is a childbirth educator and breastfeeding advocate. She is the bestselling author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth and creator of the Mama Natural Birth Course. A mother of three, graduate of the University of Colorado, and YouTuber with over 85,000,000 views, she helps mothers and moms-to-be lead healthier and more natural lives.

3 Comments

  1. Thanks for people like me after diving In pool in accident. Blew out ear drums. Signings help me to keep talk to the world with out hearing it. Mouth it.or watch them. Thanks. For the info. Communication to people.

  2. Great post! We did baby signs with our oldest (now just over two) and this reminded me to start with our four-month-old. Signing was wonderful – it helped communication so much, circumvented virtually all communication-related temper tantrums, increased his communication confidence and my mothering confidence, and jump-started his language development. He was an early and very competent talker and I’m sure signing had something to do with it. It was really fun, too!

    One tip: Feel free to make up signs and go with your baby’s made-up signs, too! Even if you try to teach all proper ASL signs, his “baby talk” version will be different, and the real purpose is communication between baby and the caregivers closest to them, so it’s ok if they aren’t the “official” versions.

  3. Thanks for the tips! I’ve been thinking of starting this soon with my baby.. what age do you recommend starting?


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