It’s so exciting the first time your baby calls you “mama.” You’re the center of their world, and the first word on their lips. Then they call your husband... “mama.” Your neighbor — “mama.” And the barista at Starbucks — “mama!” What is going on? Why does your baby call everyone mama? While it might take the wind out of your sails, it doesn’t mean you are as unimportant to them as a neighbor. Here’s why mama is on your baby’s lips and why your baby won’t do it forever.
What does it mean developmentally when your baby calls everyone mama?
According to pediatric speech language pathologist Michelle Posner, who founded Bilingual SLP, “mama” is a first word that just is among the easiest for babies to pronounce. “P, B, and M are usually the first three sounds babies make. They are called bilabials because they are produced with the lips.” They are the simplest sounds to make, compared to sounds that use the tongue, roof of the mouth, or other parts of the mouth, like the sounds of D, T, K, and G. “This also explains why a lot of languages have these sounds in their words for mother and father, like ‘mama’ and ‘papa’ in Spanish, ‘mom’ in English, ‘ima’ and ‘aba’ in Hebrew.” Developmentally speaking, your baby is right on track when they call the mail carrier “mama” too.
Can you get your baby to stop calling everyone mama?
Eventually, your child will stop on their own. Children generalize words when they are learning a language. This is called an overextension and is the same reason they might call all animals “dogs” or all round fruit “apples,” for a long time. This is normal, and a sign of a baby that is developing as expected, says Posner. “No need for parents to worry.”
Continue to read to your baby, interact with them, and model language. Most kids will hit their language milestones in a predictable pattern. “It takes seven years to master a language. Most children follow some developmental milestones, like saying their first word around their first birthday,” says Posner. Some children do need speech therapy to support their language development, but calling everyone mama is not indicative that there are any speech concerns.
It’s OK to relax and trust that this stage will pass. Even if your baby calls everyone mama, they certainly know you are the center of their universe.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech development, free developmental screenings are available through your local Early Intervention program. Check out Zero To Three for more info on screenings or ask your pediatrician.
Michelle Posner, MS CCC-SLP, pediatric speech language pathologist, founder of Bilingual SLP