The first time it happens, you don't expect it. Your baby looks at you, sticks out her tongue and makes a gentle razzing sound. It's almost impossible not to smile and make a raspberry back at her. Just try.
What starts as a fun and silly game between parent and baby actually sets the foundation for language, social skills and fine motor skills such as eating and drinking from a cup. So pucker up those lips and help your baby begin to experience a whole new world.
Most babies start blowing raspberries and bubbles at 6-8 months old. After a few tries, they usually catch on quickly, particularly if you encourage them. And you should blow back-besides being darling, those raspberries teach a variety of important skills.
"Razzies really teach babies how to regulate their voice, how to turn it on and off, change the volume and the pitch. It shows them how to navigate the diaphragm, mouth, lips and tongue," explains Tara Kehoe, speech and language pathologist and manager of the Speech and Language Department at Easter Seals DuPage and Fox Valley Region in Villa Park.
All that noise gives the jaw a great workout by exercising the muscles needed to move lips independently of the jaw and tongue. That's a crucial skill for when they start using a spoon and eating chunkier foods.
Think of it as a workout for lips.
"Lip raspberries are just lip and no tongue. They help develop lip tension so that when babies start drinking and eating they will have the appropriate tension to provide a seal for skills such as cup drinking," says Mary Barry, a speech and language pathologist with Mary Barry and Associates in Hinsdale.
But what parents notice most about the raspberry stage is that it's just plain fun. Babies laugh and giggle in response to their parents' lip blowing and then they do it back. It's the early foundation for the back and forth rhythm of a conversation.
Frequently, this is when older siblings begin to realize that the baby is capable of interaction. "My then 3- and 5-year-olds had a great time at this stage. They would be smiling and laughing and just go back and forth. It was really a great bonding time," says Carrie Raeside, a mother of five in Algonquin.
Blowing raspberries is almost nature's way of ensuring that you join in.
"We usually just do it automatically, it's so cute," says Kehoe.
Try to imitate your child and then wait for his reaction. "Use lots of non-verbal communication-eye contact and expression," Barry says. "Show them how enjoyable it is. Show them how to manipulate their environment by making sound; that's really what language is. Just match the sound, wait and go back and forth. Balance and match."
Once they've mastered the raspberries, be ready for language to start developing.
"I think blowing the bubbles has taught her how to use her mouth and enhance her language skills. Right after blowing bubbles, she started using different sounds like her G's and B's in her baby talk," says Courtney Romano of Lombard, mother of a 7-month-old.
Early speech usually entails repeated consonants and vowels with no discernible meaning. Much to the delight of mom and dad, the "m," "d" and "a" sounds are frequently the earliest. Hence "mama" and "dada" are often two of the earliest words. That soon develops into long strings of words such as "bababababa" and then eventually combined consonants for nonsense words such as "takomamano." They frequently combine gesture with the sound so you might get "ah" with the arms raised for "up."
Talk to your doctor if your baby isn't making any vocalization by eight months. Some babies may skip the raspberry stage, but they should make some type of sound that plays with their lips and their mouth. If not, it could be an indication of delayed speech development or a hearing issue.
Otherwise, enjoy those raspberries and bubbles. Play other games of cause and effect with your baby and get them to communicate back to you. It's an amazing and wonderful time of life; enjoy every sweet smile and laugh.
Laura Amann is a freelance writer and the mother of four living in Elmhurst.
See more of Laura's stories here.