Food in sign language for babies

25 Baby Signs to Know

We all hate seeing our kids unhappy—but when baby is too young to speak, it can be hard to know exactly what your little one wants. Are they hungry? Tired? Do they need a diaper change? Plus, it’s also probably just as frustrating for baby when their message just isn’t getting across. In recent years, more and more parents have been turning to baby sign language to help boost communication with their preverbal kids. Here, learn from experts what sign language for babies is, its benefits, how to start teaching it and 25 common baby signs to know.

In this article:
What is baby sign language?
Benefits of baby sign language Potential disadvantages of baby sign language How and when to start baby sign language
Common baby signs
Baby sign language chart

What Is Baby Sign Language?

Baby sign language is a set of simple hand gestures and movements, otherwise known as signs, that correspond to common words you use with baby every day. It’s a helpful tool to enhance communication between hearing parents and babies who can hear but can’t yet talk. Sometimes the baby signs are the same as those used in American Sign Language (ASL), but not always. “Baby sign is not a technical sign language, such as ASL or BSL (British sign language), which are primarily used by the deaf community and are more complex, with grammar and sentence structure,” says Jann Fujimoto, CCC-SLP, a certified speech-language pathologist in Wisconsin. “It’s a looser version that uses just signs for individual words.”

Academics began making powerful observations about how hearing families could benefit from using baby sign language around 200 years ago, thanks to the work of linguist William Dwight Whitney in the 1800s. But it wasn’t until the 2000s that baby sign language became readily available to parents through workshops, classes and baby sign language books.

Benefits of Baby Sign Language

Baby sign language is thought to offer a bunch of potential short-term and lasting benefits. Being able to understand what your preverbal baby wants or needs—and allowing baby to express themselves without the use of words—can go a long way in building your relationship. Some of the possible benefits of baby sign language are:

  • Increases baby’s ability to communicate before they can speak
  • Leads to fewer tantrums, since baby can get their message across
  • Lowers frustration for parents, since you can understand what baby wants or needs
  • Gives baby a head start in language acquisition
  • Strengthens baby’s cognitive skills
  • Enhances parent-baby bonding

In the late 1980s, Linda Acredolo, a University of California, Davis professor, and Susan Goodwyn, a professor at University of Southern California, Stanislaus, found that babies who used baby sign language actually learned verbal skills faster than those who didn’t sign. In a second study, they later checked in on those same children at age 8 and found that the babies who used signs scored higher on IQ tests than the non-signers.

Shira Fogel, a speech pathologist who founded Tiny Talkers, a baby sign language workshop program in Portland, Oregon, became a believer in the benefits of sign language for babies after witnessing her first child’s remarkable progress. Her daughter made her first sign (milk) at 5.5 months, knew more than 100 signs at 12 months and could speak in full sentences by the time she was 18 months old. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics believes baby sign language can help bridge the communication gap and has given it its stamp of approval.

It’s worth noting, though, that not all academics agree that baby sign language offers proven benefits. While some studies (like the ones conducted by Acredolo and Goodwyn) have found significant upsides to using sign language for babies, other studies haven’t unearthed any significant or long-term differences between children who learn baby sign language and those who don’t. So in general, the benefits of baby sign are considered theoretical.

And, as Jack Maypole, MD, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Boston Medical Center, points out, some benefits of baby sign language may be overstated and overpromised by the vast offerings of baby sign products on the market. “While learning baby sign language may help hearing parents and children communicate better, the results won’t necessarily be transformative, so be wary of programs that promise to get your child into Harvard or have their first novel published by nursery school,” Maypole says.

Potential Disadvantages of Baby Sign Language

So you’ve brushed up on the possible benefits of sign language for babies—but what about potential downsides? Since baby can begin to communicate using signs instead of spoken words, many parents wonder—does baby sign language delay speech? Fujimoto says no. If baby is developing at a healthy pace, baby sign just supplements their learning and gives them another way to express themselves. If you think baby might actually have a hearing impairment, don’t just rely on baby sign language as a solution, she adds. Talk to your pediatrician about your concerns and ask about referrals to an audiologist, who can perform the proper hearing tests and assessments.

How and When to Start Baby Sign Language

If you’ve decided to give baby sign language a go, you may be wondering when to teach baby some signs. A good time to start is when baby is 4 to 6 months old, according to Fujimoto. As for how, there are many different approaches to teaching baby sign language, but generally, you can teach baby by saying a word like “milk,” while making the sign at the same time, and then giving baby the milk. “Don’t hold out the item as a prize and refuse to hand it over until your child makes the sign himself,” Fujimoto says. “Verbal reinforcement—by saying the word while also showing the sign—as well as consistency are key.”

As part of the consistency, you’ll want to use the signs every day for baby to truly understand them. While your little one likely won’t start making signs on their own until they’re about 6 to 9 months, eventually baby will start to make connections between the word, sign and item. Just like learning a foreign language, a preverbal baby is going to understand more than they can speak—or in this case, sign—at first.

For more resources, parents can turn to the many workshops, videos, books and apps available these days, all designed to help you teach sign language for babies. A typical class or workshop may teach parents 30 to 50 different signs you can then use with baby at your own pace. “Some families with older babies may learn best by singing along with a video, or attending a class together,” Fujimoto says. “Families should find the method that makes sense for them.”

Common Baby Signs

When you’re ready to begin teaching baby sign language, you’ll need to decide which baby signs to start with. Fujimoto says to choose the words you and your family use the most on a day-to-day basis, like “more,” “please” and “milk.” Ready to learn how to teach baby sign language? Brush up on the below illustrations of 25 common baby signs.

Image: Kitkat Pecson

“Hungry” in sign language

It’s important for baby to be able to communicate when they’re tummy feels empty—you know, before they get hangry. Teach them how to show you they’re “hungry” in sign language. You can make the sign for “hungry” by cupping your hand around your neck to make a C shape, then move your hand down from your neck to your stomach.

Image: Kitkat Pecson

“Drink” in sign language

Want to learn how to sign “drink” in sign language? This one involves mimicking the action! Make a C shape with your hand, as if you were holding a cup, then move it to your mouth as if you were drinking from it.

Image: Kitkat Pecson

“Milk” in sign language

Wondering how to teach baby sign language? It’s best to start with something baby knows, likes and wants—for example, milk. You can communicate the word “milk” in sign language, by making two fists, then extend your fingers and bring them back into fists.

Image: Kitkat Pecson

“Water” in sign language

Teach baby how to request “water” in sign language, and you’ll always know when your little one wants their sippy cup. The sign for “water” is made by extending your three middle fingers so they’re pointing up, with your thumb and pinkie tucked down, and then tapping your index finger to your chin.

Image: Kitkat Pecson

“More” in sign language

Do you have trouble knowing if and when baby wants extra spoonfuls of their favorite puree? “More” is another important word for you and baby to learn. To express “more” in sign language, pinch your thumbs and fingers together on both hands, creating two O shapes, then tapping your fingertips together a few times.

Image: Kitkat Pecson

“Done” in sign language

When baby is full, they want you to stop shoving that spoon toward their mouth. Teach them to let you know they’re “all done” without fussing by using the ASL sign for “finished.” Start with your hands up, palms facing toward you, and turn them until your palms face out.

Image: Kitkat Pecson

“Play” in sign language

When it comes to baby sign language, the sign “play” certainly belongs in your arsenal. To communicate “play” in sign language, clench your fingers to your palms, leaving your thumbs and pinkies extended; then with palms facing you, twist your wrists back and forth.

Image: Kitkat Pecson

“Sleep” in sign language

Nobody likes having a fussy, sleep-deprived baby on their hands, so it’s a good idea to practice “sleep” in sign language. Hold your hand over your forehead with your fingers spread apart, then draw your hand down over your face until your fingers and thumb come together to touch your chin. Even babies who resist nap time may whip this one out when they’re especially exhausted.

Image: Kitkat Pecson

“Mom” in sign language

Your little one will want to know how to address their favorite people in baby sign language. To sign “mom,” simply spread your fingers apart, then with your pinkie facing forward, tap your thumb to your chin.

Image: Kitkat Pecson

“Dad” in sign language

As another one of baby’s favorite people, Dad will want in on the fun too! You can make the sign for “dad” by spreading your fingers apart, then with your pinkie facing forward, tap your thumb to your forehead.

Image: Kitkat Pecson

“Poop” in sign language

Everybody does it, so you might as well learn to sign it! If you want to indicate “poop” in sign language, clench both hands into fists and stack them on top of each other, with the thumb of the bottom hand tucked inside the upper fist. Then, pull your bottom hand down from the upper hand, leaving your thumb extended. Next time baby soils their diaper, they’ll let you know—before you even smell it.

Image: Kitkat Pecson

“Yes” in sign language

Another easy and important sign to learn is “yes.” Enthusiastically nodding your head is great, but this sign gives baby yet another communication tool. Intuitively, “yes” in sign language looks just like a nodding hand. Make a fist and then, folding at your wrist, bob your fist up and down.

Image: Kitkat Pecson

“No” in sign language

Again, shaking your head works, but this sign helps reiterate the point. To express “no” in sign language, extend your thumb, index and middle fingers, then quickly snap them together.

Image: Kitkat Pecson

“Food” in sign language

Instead of signing “hungry,” baby may want to ask for “food.” This sign can also mean “eat.” Communicate “food” in sign language by flattening your fingers on top of your thumb and then bringing your fingertips to your mouth.

Image: Kitkat Pecson

“Help” in sign language

When learning and teaching baby sign language, be sure to review the sign for “help.” This can be useful to baby in so many different situations; plus, being able to ask for support from a parent or caregiver can help reduce any frustration a baby may feel. If you want to communicate “help” in sign language, simply make a fist with one hand, with the thumb extended, and place it over your other hand, which is extended flat. Then move both hands up together.

Image: Kitkat Pecson

“Bath” in sign language

Want to tell baby it’s bath time? Express ‘“bath” in sign language by making two fists, then moving them up and down in front of your chest (as if you were scrubbing yourself clean).

Image: Kitkat Pecson

“Book” in sign language

Storytime is the best time! Use your hands to say “book” in sign language; clasp your palms together with your thumbs facing up, then hinge open your hands, keeping your pinkies together (as if you were cracking open a book).

Image: Kitkat Pecson

“Medicine” in sign language

The sign for “medicine” is made by placing your middle finger into the palm of your opposite hand and twisting.

Image: Kitkat Pecson

“Share” in sign language

To sign “share,” extend one hand flat, with your thumb pointing up. Then, run your other hand back and forth along the top of your extended fingers.

Image: Kitkat Pecson

“Sorry” in sign language

Teach baby to show empathy and express feelings before they know how to do it verbally. The sign for “sorry” is made by rubbing a fisted hand in a circle over your chest.

Image: Kitkat Pecson

“Please” in sign language

Manners matter. Teach baby to ask for things politely from the get-go. To sign “please,” extend your fingers and thumb out, then rub your flattened palm against your chest in circles.

Image: Kitkat Pecson

“Thank you” in sign language

Nothing is sweeter than watching your little one express gratitude. And they’ll appreciate it when you show them the same respect and courtesy right back. To sign “thank you,” straighten your thumb and fingers, then bring your fingers to your chin and pull them away.

Image: Kitkat Pecson

“You’re welcome” in sign language

The sign for “you’re welcome” is the same as the sign for “thank you”—flatten your hand, bring your fingers to your chin and pull them back.

Image: Kitkat Pecson

“I love you” in sign language

This is one sign you’re going to both want to use all the time. To sign “I love you,” extend your thumb, index and pinkie fingers (but keep your ring and middle fingers down). Hold your hand out with the palm facing away and rotate your hand side to side.

Image: Kitkat Pecson

“Hurt” in sign language

The baby sign for “hurt” is done by clenching both hands into fists, then extending your index fingers and touching them together.

Baby Sign Language Chart

Here, you can see 25 of the most common signs, all in one comprehensive baby sign language chart.

Image: Kitkat Pecson

Now that you know the basics of how to teach baby sign language, begin practicing a few words you think you’ll use most frequently at home. Your little one will love having a special way to communicate their wants and needs with you. What’s more, having the ability to express your feelings to each other will help strengthen your bond. It’s a win-win!

About the experts:

Jann Fujimoto, CCC-SLP, is a certified speech-language pathologist in Wisconsin. With 17 years of experience, she has worked in birth-to-three programs, pre-schools and schools, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and outpatient clinics. She received her MS in communication disorders from the University of Texas at Dallas.

Jack Maypole, MD, is an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Boston Medical Center and a pediatrician with over two decades of experience. He received his bachelor’s degree from Yale University and his medical degree from Yale University School of Medicine.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

Plus, more from The Bump:

When Do Babies Start Talking

How Should I Be Talking to Baby

11 Best Baby Book Subscriptions for Expanding Little Minds

How to use Sign Language at mealtimes — Ettie Betty Baby Signs

Once we started weaning, I would sign ‘food’ to Etta whenever offering food.

Signing food is how babies tell us that they are hungry (I've not seen a baby pick up the sign for hungry before the sign for food).

Food is a brilliant sign - it does what it says on the tin! It is the action of putting food in your mouth so it’s a movement babies will be doing already if they are feeding themselves - which makes it easy to link the action to asking for food from us when they are hungry.

Here is Etta’s first attempt at signing ‘food’.

At the same time as introducing the sign for food - I started signing some key food signs that we used most often such as broccoli, apple and banana. I wasn’t sure if she’d learn these but she loved watching the signs - it was fun for us both. And, as she was in her highchair, I really had her attention. I wish I’d filmed more of her reaction to the signs- but at the time I had no idea I’d go on to teach baby sign language!!! Hopefully you can see her excitement at the signs in the video here….

It’s important to remember that babies won’t always do the sign 100% correctly. It is just like with language - they don’t always say a word correctly when developing speech. For example, Etta would say ‘wa wa’ for water and she still says ‘cop cop’ for ‘helicopter’. I understand her and we’re communicating - it’s part of the process (and also, super cute!!!). 

Babies will often know the placement of a sign (e.g. that mummy is signed on the head) but might not get the handshape (three fingers, for mummy) correct until they are a little older. They might just use their whole hand to tap on their head to sign ‘mummy’. 

It’s down to us to praise and encourage them but to keep showing them the correct sign. It will eventually fall into place!

This clever signer demonstrates this well with the sign for broccoli - which you’ll have seen me sign to Etta in the previous video. So impressed with this signing from such a little one!!

Parents tell me that their baby learning the sign for MORE was a gamechanger - and it was the same for me with etta! It is so much easier to know your baby wants more - without them getting upset and resorting to crying.  

To teach her the sign, I’d say ‘would you like some MORE’ - emphasising the word and doing the sign and offering her more food. If she’d take it, I’d say ‘ahhh you’re having MORE’ - again emphasising the word and showing the sign. Again, she didn’t do the sign exactly as I was showing her but had her own version she’d use. It was SO useful at mealtimes - but, to my surprise, she started using it at other times! For example, she’d sign ‘more’ if she wanted me to sing a song again or story again or swing her up high again. She did eventually learn the sign for ‘again’ but it was so fascinating to see her using the sign in contexts I hadn’t imagined!

Again, the results of this were unexpected for me when I started signing with Etta. It was funny when she started signing it to other people to say please or thank you - those who didn’t know sign language thought she was blowing them kisses and would blow kisses back! They were always embarrassed when I explained she was actually signing so I wasn’t sure if I should just let them think she was blowing kisses for having brought her food! I know this has happened to other parents too - it’s very cute!

This is an important safety one. Once she’d learnt the sign, she’d use it to ask if the food I’d put in front of her was hot! 

The most important thing to remember is to keep it fun and not worry about remembering too many signs or if they’re not signing back. Definitely introduce some signs but you don’t have to do all the above - I did because I was sort of experimenting with Etta! 

There’s songs and stories on my YouTube channel to make it fun and help them learn away from the highchair too. Including The Very Hungry Caterpillar….

And Jelly on a Plate!

I’d say if you just take one sign away - introduce the sign for ‘more’ with them. After milk, it was the second most useful sign for me and Etta!

Let me know how you get on!

Read more from our blog…

Using Sign to help BATH TIME!

Etta DaleComment


Baby Sign Language | Chalk

One typical evening, a mother makes herself comfortable to start dropping spoon planes directly onto her child's wide-open rotary airfield. The received, of course, is carefully “chewed” by the gums with small dental inclusions. And then the kid points to something in the direction of the refrigerator.

— What do you want?

He persistently points in the same direction.

Mom gets him some cheese.

Is this?

Then watermelon.

— Or is it? Or cucumber?

Everything is not right, and the child shakes his head negatively, mercilessly throwing them over the side of the table.

Mom starts to wind up.

— To drink? a toy? Yes, what do you want?!

The child cries because he is not understood. Mom is ready to cry because she doesn't understand. The result of the evening: everyone is crying, and dad is in shock.

Now imagine the same situation, only the child points to the side of the refrigerator, rubs his chest with a pen, and makes a growling sound. nine0003

“Aaah…” Mom says. Did you see a bear on the fridge?

Mom goes to the refrigerator, takes a magnet with a picture of a bear and hands it to the baby. The kid rejoices, growls again and continues to eat his food. Everyone understood each other, and everyone is happy. class, right?

In America, for several years now, there has been a trend of teaching sign language to toddlers. And in this article I'll tell you why it's great.

Why teach a child sign language?

  1. The first word can come to a baby at about a year old, but the real verbal explosion occurs by 1.5 years. There was an explosion, the child says something, but this “something” usually does not correlate well with reality. At this age, children understand more words than they can say. And I guess it's infuriating. More precisely, I see how it pisses my child off, so gestures come in handy. It is important that babies begin to “build” a constructor from words by 20 months, and it is easier for them to do this if they know several ways for self-expression. The kid feels calmer from the thought: there is no word, then there is an option to explain himself in the dance. No, with a gesture, of course. nine0039
  2. I am a mother of a bilingual child and I have dozens of questions about my child's speech development. I know that only the practice of the Russian language will help him save it and translate it into an active language. And I also know that by those 18 months when a child is gaining vocabulary, bilinguals are doing double the thinking work. It turns out that bilinguals can hold their parents in anticipation of "when, when will he speak?" A little bit longer. But the beginning of speaking does not make life easier, because the child speaks as he hears, but he hears differently than we said it. In this case, sign language becomes the very bilingual bridge where all family members can exhale and “talk” Illustration by Alex Solis nine0039
  3. Sign language is an opportunity to start getting to know your child before he starts talking. You can find out in less than 18 months that he really likes bears, cheese and this particular book, and that he wants more berries. Because he will show you this "more".
  4. If there is a lot of understanding and little frustration in your communication with your child, this is the basis for a tender and trusting relationship. If communication does not cause a lot of tension, then instead of filling your child with a stress hormone, you fill him with joy and love. And on this it grows and develops like parsley in the sun. nine0039
  5. The book "Signs of a happy baby" was my first in this topic. Its author, William Paul White, also closes the question that inevitably arises: if I start using sign language, will the child only want to gesticulate? Will he never speak then? The author refers to research and argues that the development of children who communicate with sign language can outpace the development of children who do not. When we name a word, it is transferred to the auditory center of the brain. When you show a word and name it, then it also passes into the visual and motor center. It turns out that both hemispheres work on language acquisition. nine0039
  6. By mastering sign language, a child learns to interact with an adult and through him masters conversational patterns: to stop for the interlocutor to speak, to listen and maintain eye contact.
  7. Even if the child is 2-3 years old, sometimes it is difficult to understand him. And he will repeat his thought over and over and over until you understand his message. I love kids for their perseverance. Sign language helps to understand faster and already run to give "hell-hell". What is the translation of avocado, of course. nine0032

    How to teach sign language to a child?

When I learned about sign language, I pictured this scene for myself. We are walking with my son, we hear an airplane, then I show him the gesture of an airplane, he gestures in response, we laugh, hold hands and go into the light. And then the credits, the credits rolled...

But as you understand, everything went wrong.

  • No, the child will not gesticulate back to you right away. You may even come to the conclusion that he will never gesture back to you, and you are already tired of the incomprehensible looks of others. Just keep going. Just communicate with your child, and at some point he will definitely answer you. And then things will go even faster, because you will see the backlash for the first time, and this is seriously inspiring. And secondly, the child will learn the signs faster. nine0039
  • You can start by simply pointing at objects. If the child points to some object, show him that you understand what he is talking about, and at that moment name the word and show it.
  • Sign language is good because the parent learns to go to the level of the child, and here I'm talking about the level of the eyes. After all, it is necessary for the child to see that you are showing yourself this. And this is an opportunity to start a conversation with a child, even if it is an untranslatable combination of sounds. But the gestures are translatable. nine0039
  • And this recommendation is for parents of bilingual children. If you use the system one parent - one language, then sign language becomes a link between languages. Dad says: "This is a ball" and shows the ball, and mom says: "This is a ball" and shows the same sign.
  • Another hint: you can take the child's hands (only if he agrees to this) and perform the desired gesture with them. So the “more” gesture was difficult for my son, because you need to make fingers on one hand and on the other, and then knock them against each other. And it's not easy. But a couple of joint trainings resolved the difficulties, and now this is a favorite gesture. nine0039
  • The JSP rule will help you in family mastering sign language. JPP: clarity, consistency, repetition - these three words help the child build meanings around the events. The same applies to sign language.

While learning a new gesture with my son, I see his smile, attention to my hands and smile again. Sign language turned out to be an adventure for me, which is unforgettable to plunge into with a child. It brings us joy and ease of understanding. Suddenly, you will like it too? nine0003 Illustrated by Alex Solis

Sign Language for Toddlers: Communication Tips


  • Overview
  • Sign Language for Toddlers
  • Potential Benefits of Sign Language for Toddlers
  • What the Study Says How to Teach Sign Language to Babies and Toddlers
  • Conclusion


Most babies start talking at about 12 months, but babies try to communicate with their parents much earlier. nine0003

One way to teach a child to express feelings, desires and needs without crying or whining is to use simple sign language.

Baby Sign Language

The sign language taught to normal hearing babies and toddlers is different from American Sign Language (ASL) used for the hearing impaired.

This is a limited dictionary of simple characters, some of which are part of the ASL characters, designed to express the general needs of this age group, as well as the objects they often encounter. nine0003

Most often, such signs will mean such concepts as “more”, “everything is gone”, “thank you” and “where is it?”

Potential benefits of sign language for babies

Possible benefits of using sign language for your babies include:

  • earlier ability to understand spoken language, especially between 1 and 2 years of age
  • earlier use of speaking skills, especially aged 1 to 2 years
  • earlier use of sentence structure in colloquial speech
  • reduced crying and whining in infants
  • better parent-child bonding
  • potential increase in IQ

From what we know, most of the possible gains found in children seem to level off after 3 years. Children 3 years and older who have been taught sign language do not appear to have significantly greater abilities than children who do not sign.

It may still be useful to sign a contract with a child for several reasons. nine0003

Many parents who used sign language reported that their babies and toddlers were able to communicate with them so much during these critical years, including emotions.

As any parent of a toddler knows, it is often difficult to understand why your child behaves the way they do. But with the help of sign language, the child has another way of expressing himself.

While this type of sign language may help your child communicate more easily, more research is needed to see if it can help improve language, literacy, or cognition. nine0003

What the study says

The good news is that there are no real downsides to using signs with your young children. Many parents express concern that gestures delay the expression of verbal communication.

No studies have ever confirmed this, and some suggest the exact opposite effect.

There are studies that suggest that using sign language does not help infants and toddlers acquire verbal language earlier than usual, but even these studies do not show that gestures delay the ability to speak. nine0003

How to teach sign language to babies and toddlers

So how do parents teach these signs to their children and what signs do they teach? There are several ways to teach gestures to children.

One of the ways described is to follow the following rules:

  • Start early, eg 6 months. If your child is older, don't worry as any age is good to start signing.
  • Keep your sign language lessons short, about 5 minutes each. nine0039
  • First perform the sign and say the word. For example, say the word "more" and perform the gesture.
  • If your child makes a gesture, reward him with some form of positive reinforcement, such as a toy. Or, if the session takes place during a meal, bite off a piece of food.
  • If he does not perform the sign within 5 seconds, carefully guide his hands to complete the sign.
  • Each time they perform a sign, give a reward. And repeat the sign yourself to secure it. nine0039
  • By repeating this process three times a day, your child will quickly learn basic gestures.

For more information, there are websites with books and videos that offer instructions for parents, but they usually charge a fee.

Learn more