It is one of my most exciting moments as a mom! The day Amberly signed for the first time. Like mama, her first sign was MILK. It is an easy sign to do for a baby as young as 2 months old (you should check out the story of Owen first signing MILK). After observing her great ability to watch and mimic with keen eyes I decided the day after Valentine's Day that I would have Amberly signing MILK by day's end. You'll want to check out the previous posts relating to this story to see exactly what I mean - Part 1 and Part 2.
We started off like most days, lounging in pjs and nursing on demand (at 4 1/2 months we made it sometimes 2 hours between feeds - she really enjoyed her milk!) Each time Amberly showed the first signs of being hungry, I would talk to her about nursing and having MILK even more emphatically than before. This produced a smile, I knew even from this young age that her personality was budding and that she greatly valued being understood. I went to nurse her, after having signed MILK a decent number of times, 3-5.... but not making it take more than a minute to do so. You know how those hungry babies can get fiesty pretty quick if you don't provide the breast or bottle quickly enough!
What I did differently this day than previous days is I'd stop her a couple of times, you know, pop her off the boob and ask her while signing, "Are you having MILK?" If she was so hungry and disinterested in this game I didn't push it. Most times she thought this was fun. The proof? By mid day she came to expect me to pop her off the boob to have this conversation of sorts and she'd turn back to the breast but turn and steal a glance as if to say "go ahead, ask me if I'm having MILK" which was pretty cute. For those experienced mommies you know how that age comes where your baby is discovering the world around them and you cannot seemt to get them to pay attention to nursing long enough to finish a feeding? Well, this game I created probably started Amberly on this track earlier because I was giving her a reason to stop, haha! New mommies, we donn't always know what we're doing, but so long as we're bonding and having fun with it, go with the flow! Side note: Later, with the boys I used the "not-new-mommy-knowledge" and signing to my advantage in those scenarios when the boys would stop nursing and look around, I signed MILK to get them focused back at the task at hand so we could finish up and continue to play after.
Several of these feedings took place in my office sitting in front of the mirrored closet doors where I would sit Amberly up and point to my exposed breast, and ask her if she wanted MILK. Babies are social by nature, so I created a context of socializing with our favorite "baby in the mirror" to add to the experience. She would look at herself in the mirror, my reflection and then back at me. A few times when I interrupted her feeding, she'd turn to look for the baby in the mirror. Maybe to check if that baby also was having her feeding interrupted haha!
At her 5 o' clock feeding, Amberly again pulled off the boob as I'd been doing intentionally all day, then before I could ask her if she was going to have more MILK she signed it! And with a huge smile to boot! The feeling of knowing how she could now identify this special activity was incredible. She continued to do this a few more times for emphasis. Babies LOVE to do that, being scientists and checking for understanding. Each time I confirmed for her "Yes, you're having MILK! Now you can show Mommy when you want MILK." Of course signing MILK each time I said it and she would repeat the sign. I was amazed. Seriously to know our babies are able to process and create associations and implement actions to communicate with full intention at just 4 months. I couldn't wait for Daddy to get home and share what we'd been up to all day.
As a new mom I thought this might be just the thing to make life a little easier because she could ask me for milk instead of grab at my boob or begin to fuss. The truth of the matter I don't think it was until Amberly was roughly 8 months old that she signed MILK in order to have it. Rather as their communication abilities develop, both verbal and non-verbal, the first thing babies will do is mimic, then they will sign in the context of the thing or activity, then when object permanance occurs, this is when they can ask for the item. Still it was fun to respond to her telling me "Mommy, I'm having MILK" essentially as she loved to do from that day forward 'til about 8 or 9 months. I could affirm her thoughts and have a conversation with her about her surroundings knowing that she was "getting it."
If you haven't checked out the previous posts in this series, please do.
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. View the schedule of classes at Sign4Baby