To evaluate the verbal interactions of parents with their infants in the first months of life and to test the hypothesis that reciprocal vocalizations of mother-infant dyads would be more frequent than those of father-infant dyads.
This prospective cohort study included 33 late preterm and term infants. Sixteen-hour language recordings during the birth hospitalization and in the home at 44 weeks’ postmenstrual age (PMA) and 7 months were analyzed for adult word count, infant vocalizations, and conversational exchanges.
Infants were exposed to more female adult speech than male adult speech from birth through 7 months (P < .0001). Compared with male adults, female adults responded more frequently to their infant’s vocalizations from birth through 7 months (P < .0001). Infants preferentially responded to female adult speech compared with male adult speech (P = .01 at birth, P < .0001 at 44 weeks PMA and 7 months). Mothers responded preferentially to girls versus boys at birth (P = .04) and 44 weeks PMA (P = .0003) with a trend at 7 months (P = .15), and there were trends for fathers to respond preferentially to boys at 44 weeks PMA (P = .10) and 7 months (P = .15).
Mothers provide the majority of language input and respond more readily to their infant’s vocal cues than fathers; infants show a preferential vocal response to their mothers in the first months. Findings also suggest that parents may also respond preferentially to infants based on gender. Informing parents of the power of early talking with their young infants is recommended.