It might seem silly to non-parents, but I loved talking to my son when he was a newborn. I would tell him stories as he gurgled and cooed in my arms. I would recite the ABCs and 123s while he sat in the baby carrier on my chest. There wasn’t a moment I didn’t try to engage my son, even though he had no idea what I was saying at the time.
Of course, I’m not the only mama to babble to their baby. In an interview with TODAY, writer and actor Mindy Kaling admits that—thanks to fellow comedian James Corden—she now speaks to her daughter, Katherine Swati, “all the time.”
“He has a baby who is my baby’s age. I did his show a couple of weeks ago. He told me the best thing you can do for a baby is constantly talk to them, even if you feel like you’re babbling to them,” says the The Mindy Project creator, who gave birth to Katherine on Dec. 15.
“Since he told me that, I’ve been talking to her so much. In the couple of weeks since I upped my talking to her, she seems to be really reacting and listening.”
Kaling continues, “I do feel foolish doing it. I’m babbling like a lunatic. It’s hard to come up with more things to talk to her about: 'Last night I went to the premiere.' I’m just a personal Wikipedia page for her.”
Studies show that talking to your newborn from birth can boost their brain power. According to Harvard Medical School, a baby’s brain is quicker to make strong neural connections that are needed for future language development if their parent talks to them directly for the first six months of their life.
And that has a tremendous impact on their future success. In the mid-1990s, University of Kansas researchers found that kids who heard more words from their parents before the age of three performed better academically by the third grade, as well as had higher IQs. They also discovered that 86% to 98% of a child’s vocabulary included words in their parents’ vocabularies.
Conversely, studies show that children whose parents talked to them the least are more likely to perform poorly on language tests. They could also lag behind in vocabularies and language process skills by up to six months, according to researchers.
Anne Fernald, a development psychologist at Standford University, says gabbing with your baby soon after birth not only helps them learn and remember words, but also grasp the relationship between words and how the world works.
"You need to start talking to them from day one,” Fernald said while speaking at the 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, according to The Guardian. “You are building a mind, a mind that can conceptualize, that can think about the past and the future."
But it’s not just chatting with your newborn that has benefits. Singing can also be just as powerful. Two Harvard Medical School researchers found that infant-directed song evolved as a way to calm wailing or fussy babies. Singing also allows parents to signal their attention to their little ones, reassuring their babies that they will be kept safe, according to their research.
Speaking to The Harvard Gazette, Max Krasnow, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University, says, “Infant-directed song has a lot of these costs built in. I can’t be singing to you and be talking to someone else. It’s unlikely I’m running away, because I need to control my voice to sing. You can tell the orientation of my head even without looking at me; you can tell how far away I am even without looking.”
The power of talking and singing to your infant is undeniable. Sure, like Kaling, you may feel foolish chatting to a baby who doesn’t understand you. But the truth is, they do. They’re learning a lot from your voice and words, so continue to talk to your baby like no one’s listening, mama (because the most important person really is).