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When do babies start saying mama?

You love everything about your sweet baby and can’t wait to hear those first sweet words … mama. So when does your baby start saying sounds, and how do you separate it from babbling and cooing so familiar with babies? Let’s take a look at the most common scenarios.

During a baby’s first year, your conversation is a vital part of your child’s language development. From those first coos and smiles to speaking in full sentences, here’s what you need to know about your baby’s language and how to get to that first “mama.”

How babies communicate

Even before your baby starts speaking, they’re communicating. Babies use crying as an early communicator but quickly expand to gestures and signs — even points to get their point across.

Smiling parents talking to their baby
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

All these signals help prepare your baby for their talking debut. These interactions teach children the basics of communication, as well as the concept that language in all its forms can stand for real concepts. This paves the way for what’s to come.

Your baby’s first year

Little ones learn so much during the first year of life. They’re watching and listening to you and learning to manipulate their tongue and vocal cords. From those first cries, your baby begins communicating, but it isn’t until about 8 months that language starts appearing.

At 8 months, most children are babbling various sounds, many of which may resemble familiar, simple words. However, don’t put too much stock in that early “dada” sound just yet. Real language, as in using words to communicate a concept, doesn’t usually arrive until a little later.

Around 12 months is when language really kicks in. Many children are using language to their advantage and may have already uttered “mama” to a parent. From here, language can happen rapidly, although don’t worry if your child is a late talker.

Some children wait as long as 18 months before ramping up speech, saying both “mama” and “dada” plus a handful of other words. If your child is showing no interest in talking by this time, it could be time to seek your pediatrician’s advice.

How parents contribute to language development

A big part of encouraging your child to talk is the interaction between you. Children whose parents (and families, siblings, guardians, and anyone else involved in the child’s life) read, sing, and talk to the child from the earliest days show more signs of language awareness than those with no such stimuli.

Mother consoling crying child
Tatiana Foxy / Shutterstock

Face-to-face interaction is still the gold standard for this type of language input. While talking toys and screens can serve a purpose, they don’t do much to encourage language development if you aren’t interacting with the baby.

The same goes for second languages. Babies can learn second languages too, but not if the instruction comes from a screen. The person-to-person interaction jumpstarts the magic.

How to encourage your baby to talk

There are quite a few things you can do to help ensure that your baby has the best chance of talking. Here’s what to keep in mind as you go through your child’s first year.

  • Read, read, and read some more — Even if your baby doesn’t seem to pay attention or only wants to chew on the books, it’s still important to read. The input is a vital part of your child’s later grasp of language.
  • Pay attention to intonation — Slow down and read like you mean it. Also, talk like you mean it. Your child is learning so much about how conversation happens during this first year. Even if they respond with babbles, they’re learning how to hold a conversation with you.
  • Use real words — While there may be some interest in baby talk, it’s important to use mostly real words so that your baby grasps the concept of language. Early on, babies may communicate using approximations (“ba” for bottle), but these will eventually evolve.
  • Avoid correction — As your child works through sounds, you can acknowledge what your child is saying and continue the conversation.
  • Don’t panic — If your baby isn’t talking and he or she is nearing 1, it’s not a huge deal. Language is a broad benchmark, so keep in touch with your pediatrician. However, release the stress of having a child who talks right away.
  • Identify yourself — Referring to yourself as “mama” or “dada” can help your child learn to associate the word with the person. “Mama has your food” or “Look at dada!” can go a long way to encouraging those first words.
    Most of all, be patient and spend lots of time face to face with your baby. Those language skills will happen when they need to, and all children are different.

When babies say “mama”

It’s magic. Once your child begins the language journey, it can seem that overnight they start talking like real little people. From those first little babbles and sounds to full-fledged talking, saying “mama” might be your favorite memory of all.

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