Brecksville speech therapist on why babies say dada first

“Why Does Baby Say ‘Dada’ First?” Brecksville Speech Therapist Insight

As a Brecksville speech therapist, I know parents are often PSYCHED about their baby’s first words. I’ve also heard over and over moms express dismay (only half-joking) that after all they’ve done, the baby’s first word is often “dada” – rather than “mama.”

Moms take heart: As a Brecksville speech therapist can explain, this phenomenon (and it’s not universal) is likely more a reflection of the motor mechanics and phonetic simplicity of the sounds than a closer bond to their paternal parent.

Both the “M” and “D” sounds are part of a group of consonants that babies often say first, because they’re produced at the front of the mouth. “Dada” may be a slightly more common first than “Mama” because the “Da” sound comes more naturally, particularly when the baby’s mouth is at rest.

Babies between the ages of 6 and 9 months will usually start babbling frequently, and often with sounds and repeated syllables like “dadadadada,” “babababa,” and “mamamama” – but not always in this precise order.

Even among children who speak a language that doesn’t use “Mama” or “Dada” to refer to their parents, they often still will say these sounds first. In many languages, “Baba” means “dad.” Others use “tata,” “papa,” “moi,” “toi,” “me,” “tu,” etc. Some linguists theorize that the words used for “mama” and “dada” in many languages were established precisely because they are among the easiest and first sounds babies make.

There’s a level of social reinforcement, too. When a baby says either one of those words, they are likely to get a big reaction from their parent/caregiver – even if they were only just testing out how the sounds feel and how their mouth works. Eventually, because mom and/or dad responds to these syllables, they learn that when they hear those words, it means their favorite person/people.

What’s more, child development experts theorize that babies are often closely connected to their moms, particularly when mom is the primary caregiver. When mom is talking, they may more frequently hear her saying “dada” than “mama” – because she’s less likely to be talking about herself in the third-person.

The good news is that if your child is saying “dada,” then “mama” very likely isn’t far behind.

Brecksville Speech Therapist Details Speech Milestones for 12-Month-Olds

Witnessing a child develop their speech and language skills is a marvel and joy for many parents. And it’s true that all kids will do so at their own pace.

That said, any Brecksville speech therapist will tell you that as exciting as those first words are, it’s equally important to pay attention to whether they’re meeting the widely recognized speech-language milestones for their age group.

A speech delay isn’t necessarily cause for major alarm, but it is something that should be noted and monitored. If it persists, consider a formal evaluation by a speech-language pathologist. We can begin treating kids as young as 18 months for speech-language delays and disorders. If your suspicions are off – no harm, no foul. But if there is an issue, the longer you wait, the harder it will be for them to catch up. Early intervention speech therapy allows us to close the gap – so that it doesn’t snowball and start significantly impacting their social, emotional, and cognitive/academic skills.

By the time a baby reaches their 1st birthday, they should be:

  • Babbling. Babies start to babble around 6 months, making repetitive constant-vowel combinations, which are precursors to real words.
  • Responding to their name. By 9 months, most babies respond to their name by turning their heads or looking directly at the person who said their name.
  • Understanding simple words. Receptive language (understanding when people are communicating with us) is tougher to gauge in young children than expressive language (being able to express yourself to others). But we can usually tell when babies between the ages of 9-12 months understand basic words and commands, such as “no,” “bye-bye,” and “come here.” They might also recognize familiar objects and people.
  • First words. Most babies by 12 months will say a few words, such as “mama,” “dada,” “bye,” or “hi.” To “count,” they need to be used consistently and meaningfully in context.
  • Imitation. Babies LOVE to imitate sounds, gestures, facial expressions, etc. If your child isn’t doing some level of mimicry, that may be cause for concern.
  • Gesturing. Waving, pointing, nodding, shaking of the head – all are fairly common by 12 months as forms of expressive communication.
  • Joint attention. This means they can follow another person’s gaze or pointing gesture to look at an object together. This skill is at the very foundation of language development. If they don’t have it by 12 months, talk to your pediatrician at your next visit. If it persists, you may request a referral to a Brecksville speech therapist for an evaluation.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

Why do babies say dada first? May 24, 2024, By Elise Sole,

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Akron Speech Therapist Activity Recs for Speech & Language Development, July 9, 2024, Brecksville Speech Therapist Blog