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Baby development

When Do Babies Say Mama and Dada?

A speech-language pathologist talks about language development milestones and when to expect to hear those magical first words.

When Do Babies Say Mama and Dada?

Catherine Delahaye / Getty Images

While every baby's first word is special, there's one that parents often long to hear the most: 'mama' or 'dada.'

Trying to figure out the typical timeline for when babies say 'mama' and 'dada'? We spoke with a speech pathologist who broke it all down for us.

Language Development Milestones

According to Michelle Mintz, a licensed speech pathologist, babies go through many stages of language development before they say their first words. These milestones include cooing and babbling, which follow the initial cry after birth.

"Babies communicate from birth through sounds like crying," she tells Today's Parent. "Within a month, they start cooing, which becomes more pronounced by three months old."

Between four to seven months, babies begin to explore their vocal abilities. "At around 8 to 9 months of age, babies start to understand words and language. But even though they understand, they may not always follow spoken instructions or commands," Mintz adds.

When Can Babies Say Mama?

Mintz notes that babies typically begin to speak actual, meaningful words between 10 and 12 months. By the time they turn one, children generally have about 5 to 7 words that they use accurately.

"For example, when a child says 'mama,' it is specifically directed at their mother, rather than calling everyone 'mama,' despite their ability to say the word," she says.

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Several factors can influence when a baby says "mama" for the first time. Infants who lack exposure to words, language, communication, or engagement are more likely to experience delays in verbal language development.

Mintz explains, "Parents who actively interact and engage with their babies, providing face-to-face time and demonstrating how different sounds are made, are more likely to raise children who can talk and communicate more effectively with others."

Man, woman with lilttle daughter holding wooden toothbrush. Halfpoint Images/ Getty Images

Do Babies Say Mama or Dada First?

Some infants may utter 'mama' as their first word, while others might say 'dada' initially. Mintz says this is because the 'dada' sound is easier for babies to produce than the 'mama' sound.

"Most babies use sucking motions to soothe themselves, which helps position their tongues correctly for the 'd' sound," Mintz explains. "In contrast, producing the 'm' sound requires the lips to come together, a movement that is less instinctive for infants."

How to Get Baby to Say Mama

To encourage your baby to say 'mama,' Mintz says you should talk to them consistently throughout the day.

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"Try reading to your baby and narrating your activities," she says. You can say things like, 'Mama is washing dishes,' to provide valuable language exposure and repetition."

Experts: 

  • Michelle Mintz, M.S., CCC-SLP, a licensed speech-language pathologist

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Courtney Leiva has over 11 years of experience producing content for numerous digital mediums, including features, breaking news stories, e-commerce buying guides, trends, and evergreen pieces. Her articles have been featured in HuffPost, Buzzfeed, PEOPLE, and more.

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