If there’s one thing we know about babies, it’s that they are very limited in how they can communicate their needs to us. Until they learn how to speak, it’s almost impossible for them to convey these needs at all, other than crying – or is it? In fact, babies are capable of some quite complex communication outside of verbalisations. Basic sign language – typically (though not always) a set of simplified gestures rather than your country’s official sign language – can be remarkably easy for little ones to pick up once they’ve begun developing more control over their motor skills. The use of baby sign has become increasingly popular over the years, and with good reason. There are many benefits to teaching your little one sign language, so let’s have a look at some of them!


  What Exactly Is Baby Sign Language?

 Baby sign language is pretty much that – sign language for babies. It’s useful for babies (whether they’re hearing or have any form of hearing impairment) as it helps them convey concepts they are perfectly capable of understanding but cannot express, such as hunger or tiredness, before their physical speech has developed. As mentioned above, these signs can be completely made up, or they can be basic signs from, for example, New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL), the official sign language of NZ. Different countries have their own languages, so if you try using official signs, getting guidance from your local organisation’s website may be beneficial. Of course, there’s no reason you have to, particularly if your child does not have deafness or is not otherwise hard of hearing – the signs can be unique to your family. The only real rules are that they should be simple, clear, and consistent – just like with any language. Baby sign language really just revolves around a few keywords – think ‘hungry’, ‘food’, ‘tired’ or ‘nappy’. There is no need for the more complex grammar and structure of NZSL (or Auslan, BSL, ASL, or the language of your country). That said, your area may have services related to teaching your baby signs; these can help you learn existing signs to make it easier than making up your own versions would be.


 Improved Communication Skills

 All of which above is to say that by incorporating a few basic signs, communication skills begin to develop. Just because they are still preverbal doesn’t mean our little ones don’t know what they want or need, so by being able to convey to their parents and caregivers concepts such as ‘more’, ‘eat’, ‘sleep’ or ‘nappy’, these needs can be more quickly and effectively met.


 Early Development

 Some parents may worry that relying on signs in those early days may have a negative impact later on when it comes to verbal speech. However, research has suggested the opposite may be true – that when babies use signs to communicate, they are, by extension, exposed to using language themselves earlier than they might otherwise be, letting them develop vocab and language skills more quickly. However, it’s not only language development that may be encouraged; physical development, including fine motor skills and cognitive development, has also been shown to have benefitted from learning baby sign language1.


Alleviating Frustration

 If there’s one thing most parents know about, it’s the frustration babies feel—and express—when they can’t adequately communicate what they want. They often become upset, which can lead to them grizzling, crying, or having tantrums, which can, in turn, result in frazzled parents. By being able to let caregivers know what they need, this frustration can be mitigated. That doesn’t mean all frustration and crying will end—babies are still babies, after all—but if one cause of upset can be eased, it could certainly end up with a slightly more peaceful environment!


 Increased Confidence

 All of these factors combine to give your little one a real confidence boost. Being able to communicate, express what they need, and then, more importantly, have those needs met has a positive effect on their confidence, self-esteem, and general sense of agency. Perhaps even more importantly, it can really help with further bonding between caregiver and child, as each develops more confidence in their ability to interact with one another.


 To sum up, there are many benefits to using baby sign language, both for the babies themselves and those looking after them. It not only allows them to communicate more effectively, but it may also help with other aspects of their development (both physical and cognitive) and increase their confidence. On the caregiver side, it gives you the ability to more quickly understand what your little one is asking for, making it far easier to respond. And the best part is, if you try it out and it doesn’t work for you, there’s nothing lost! And if it works? You’ll be able to tell straight away when bubs thinks it’s time for a snack from their Fresh Food Feeder!



1Mueller, V., Sepulveda, A., & Rodriguez, S. (2014). The effects of baby sign training on child development. Early Child Development and Care184(8), 1178–1191. https://doi.org/10.1080/03004430.2013.854780