Reasons Why Your Baby’s First Word May Not Have Been “Mama”

From the moment a baby starts to coo and gurgle, a playful competition often commences in the family: will the baby say “mama” or “dada” first? Since mums carried the baby for nine months, birthed them, and are often the primary caregiver, it may seem like they have the upper hand. But time and time again, research has shown us that it’s actually dads that most often come out on top in the baby talk battle.

If your baby was one to say “dada” first, don’t fret! The reasoning behind the first (person) word a baby speaks doesn’t have anything to do with who the baby has bonded with most. Keep reading to learn more about the science behind a baby’s first word and why it might not have been “mama.”

Are they saying “mama” or “dada” or are they just babbling?

Before we get ahead of ourselves, we need to decipher if your baby actually said “mama” or “dada,” or if it was just babbling. While babies all reach talking milestones at different stages, the babbling stage typically occurs between 4-10 months, sometimes sooner, sometimes later. During this stage, your baby will be getting familiar with their tongue and lips and will likely start repeating consonants + vowel combinations (think: dododo). When babbling comes out as “mamama” or “dadada” at this age, it might sound like they’ve just spoken their first word, but it was most likely just babbling.

When your baby reaches around 8-10 months, they may say their first person word, but they probably won’t actually know what “mama” or “dada” means quite yet. Between 12-14 months, if your baby speaks “mama’ or “dada,” this is when it’s time to celebrate the first word. Not only do they speak it more clearly, but they also know the meaning behind the word.

Why did my baby say “dada” first instead of “mama?”

If your baby has spoken their first word, and it was, in fact, “dada,” “mama” is sure to come very soon! Even still, mums may be left wondering how dad came first, especially if they’re the one that are home with them most often while dad works. While the science is still debated on this topic, here are some theories as to why “dada” is more common.

Your baby’s speech pattern may favour “d” over “m” sounds.

Whether or not the “d” sound or “m” sound is easier for babies to make is still debated on by experts. Nonetheless, each child will have their own motor speech pattern. So it might just come down to whether that speech pattern favours making bilabial sounds made with lips (such as “m” for “mama”), or if it favours making lingual sounds made with the tip of the tongue at the roof of the mouth (such as “d” for “dada”).

If it does come down to speech patterns, and your baby’s first word was “dada,” that might just be the motor pattern that comes more naturally to them.

Your baby may hear “dada” more often.

Other experts believe that the word a baby hears more often may be their first word. If you are a stay-at-home mum, you might get your baby excited when dad walks through the door by saying phrases like, “dada’s home” or “it’s dada.” While this may be unintentional, the frequency and the excitement behind the word may have an influence as to if “dada” becomes the first word they speak.

Your baby may not see themselves as separate from their mum.

During the first year of life, bubs remain quite fused to their mothers, especially if the mum is the primary caregiver. Since this bond is so strong, they may not see their mum as being separate from themselves (cue the waterworks). Since the first person a baby may recognise outside this mother-baby bond is their father, some researchers believe that this is why his name is more commonly spoken first.

Final Thoughts on First Words

While the reasoning for why babies more commonly say “dada” over “mama” is still highly debated, we do know one thing: it has nothing to do with who the child prefers. So if your name hasn’t been spoken yet, don’t fret! It’s likely to come hot on the heels of “dada.”

Tags: Parent's Corner