No worries, Mama: Saying “Dada” first actually means you + baby are super bonded

The “d” sound is regarded as more difficult for babies—so why all the “Dadas”?!

No worries, Mama: Saying “Dada” first actually means you + baby are super bonded

When babies start to coo and gurgle, parents listen attentively, waiting for the magical sounds they want to hear—their name. But who comes first, Mama or Dada? While open to speculation among parents, research suggests there is a clear winner.

Linguistic experts continue to debate whether Ds are harder to say than Ms but Heather Goad, a professor at MacGill University, is firmly in the Daddy camp. She states Ds are more difficult to pronounce because of the tongue gesture required.

But difficult or not, the first person a child identifies is not who people usually think it will be.


Cross cultural research on baby’s first words shows that the clear winner is Dada. Tardif and colleagues found in more than 900 babies, aged 8 to 16 months from English, Cantonese and Mandarin speaking homes, Dada was the most common first person identified. Mama is not far behind but it does lead to questions as to why in mixed gender homes, Dada seems to come first?

Mothers are often astonished and confused at Dada being the first “person word”’ a child says, especially if they have been at home with them for any length of time. But have no fear—it’s not what you think. The reason Mama usually follows Dada is that she is not the first person a baby sees as being separate from them.

To understand this we need to put these words into developmental context. Shyness instincts in a baby start to appear ideally at age 6 to 7 months. At this time they will demonstrate a clear preference for a primary caretaker. By age 8 to 9 months they will ideally be on their way to demonstrating object permanence, meaning they understand that if someone goes away that they can also reappear again. Babies at this age also begin to understand causality meaning they see they have an impact on the world through their actions. For example, they start to understand that their coos can draw a parent near as well as their cries. This is important as far as the naming process goes. For a child to start to name things, objects need to take on a more permanent form.

But why Dada first?

When mothers are the primary attachment, babies are still quite fused to them well into their first year of life. The first separation they see from themself is to their father. Dada is usually the first person they identify outside of the mother and baby bond.

Mama usually follows on the heels of Dada and indicates that a child is starting to use words to name permanent objects in their life. What this indicates is a small developmental miracle, a child is being born as a separate, unique being.

While being able to identify Dada and Mama is evidence of a sophisticated self that is emerging, by the age of three, an even more special pronoun can be heard: “I” or “me.”

Three year old children are often adamant that you call them by their preferred name, with proclamations such as, “I am not your honey, I am Matthew!” They are quite sure they can “do it MYSELF,” as if to alert us that indeed, a separate being has formed and is on their way to realizing their own will.

The developmental trajectory of names in a young child reveals the length of time it takes to grow them as a separate person psychologically. In the first three years of life, over 100 billion brain cells will form 1000 trillion connections allowing them to put the pieces of their world together into a coherent whole and for their narrative to take shape.

One of the most remarkable developments in the first three years of life is how they come to grow as a separate person and start to develop their own ideas, preferences, desires and intentions.

While it may start with Dada, the pronouncement of “I” is indicative of a psychological self being born. For the next two to three years the “I” will continue to develop as a child makes sense of their world and discovers their own words and meanings for it. It takes time to grow a separate self and this should be a child’s main preoccupation between the years of 3 to 6 years, thus giving them the appearance of self absorption. The child needs time to develop as a whole person and this is achieved with a focus on the self as governed by instincts, emotions, and brain development that is underway.

Between the age of 5 to 7 years, brain growth should ideally allow a child to consider two separate reference points at the same time. This means they will be able to take into account their own needs, as well as those of others while interacting with them. The “I” can now shift to “WE” and the young child starts to evolve as a social being. At this time, they should be able to handle themself better in social settings and are more likely to meet social expectations for conduct and performance.

The birth of a child as a social being rests on how they unfold first as a separate self. Those magical words at around age 3, “ME DO,” indicates things are well underway.

While Dada is the first person a baby usually identifies in their life, it is only just the beginning. It is the start of a journey to understand who they are and to be able to use their words to share their experiences with others.

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I felt lost as a new mother, but babywearing helped me find myself again

I wish someone had told me before how special wearing your baby can be, even when you have no idea how to do it.

My first baby and I were alone in our Brooklyn apartment during a particularly cold spring with yet another day of no plans. My husband was back at work after a mere three weeks of parental leave (what a joke!) and all my friends were busy with their childless lives—which kept them too busy to stop by or check in (making me, at times, feel jealous).

It was another day in which I would wait for baby to fall asleep for nap number one so I could shower and get ready to attempt to get out of the house together to do something, anything really, so I wouldn't feel the walls of the apartment close in on me by the time the second nap rolled around. I would pack all the diapers and toys and pacifiers and pump and bottles into a ginormous stroller that was already too heavy to push without a baby in it .

Then I would spend so much time figuring out where we could go with said stroller, because I wanted to avoid places with steps or narrow doors (I couldn't lift the stroller by myself and I was too embarrassed to ask strangers for help—also hi, New Yorkers, please help new moms when you see them huffing and puffing up the subway stairs, okay?). Then I would obsess about the weather, was it too cold to bring the baby out? And by the time I thought I had our adventure planned, the baby would wake up, I would still be in my PJs and it was time to pump yet again.

Slowly, but surely, and mostly thanks to sleep deprivation and isolation, I began to detest this whole new mom life. I've always been a social butterfly. I moved to New York because I craved that non-stop energy the city has and in the years before having my baby I amassed new friends I made through my daily adventures. I would never stop. I would walk everywhere just to take in the scenery and was always on the move.

Now I had this ball and chain attached to me, I thought, that didn't even allow me to make it out of the door to walk the dog. This sucks, I would think regularly, followed by maybe I'm not meant to be a mom after all.

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I never wanted to be a mom. It wasn't something I ever thought would happen until I fell madly in love with my husband—who knew very well he wanted children. While he was a natural at entertaining our nephews or our friends' kids, I would awkwardly try to interact with them, not really knowing what to say or do.

Our first pregnancy was a surprise, a much-wanted one but also a unicorn, "first try" kind of pregnancy. As my belly grew bigger, so did my insecurities. How do you even mom when you never saw motherhood in your future? I focused all my uncertainties on coming up with a plan for the delivery of my baby—which proved to be a terrible idea when my dreamed-of unmedicated vaginal birth turned into an emergency C-section. I couldn't even start motherhood the way I wanted, I thought. And that feeling happened again when I couldn't breastfeed and instead had to pump and bottle-feed. And once more, when all the stress from things not going my way turned into debilitating postpartum anxiety that left me not really enjoying my brand new baby.

As my baby grew, slowly so did my confidence that I could do this. When he would tumble to the ground while learning how to walk and only my hugs could calm him, I felt invincible. But on the nights he wouldn't sleep—whether because he was going through a regression, a leap, a teeth eruption or just a full moon—I would break down in tears to my husband telling him that he was a better parent than me.

Then I found out I was pregnant again, and that this time it was twins. I panicked. I really cannot do two babies at the same time. I kept repeating that to myself (and to my poor husband) at every single appointment we had because I was just terrified. He, of course, thought I could absolutely do it, and he got me through a very hard pregnancy.

When the twins were born at full term and just as big as singleton babies, I still felt inadequate, despite the monumental effort I had made to grow these healthy babies and go through a repeat C-section to make sure they were both okay. I still felt my skin crawl when they cried and thought, What if I can't calm them down? I still turned to my husband for diaper changes because I wasn't a good enough mom for twins.

My husband reminded me (and still does) that I am exactly what my babies need. That I am enough. A phrase that has now become my mantra, both in motherhood and beyond, because as my husband likes to say, I'm the queen of selling myself short on everything.

So when my babies start crying, I tell myself that I am enough to calm them down.

When my toddler has a tantrum, I remind myself that I am enough to get through to him.

When I go out with the three kids by myself and start sweating about everything that could go wrong (poop explosions times three), I remind myself that I am enough to handle it all, even with a little humor.

And then one day I found this bracelet. Initially, I thought how cheesy it'd be to wear a reminder like this on my wrist, but I bought it anyway because something about it was calling my name. I'm so glad I did because since day one I haven't stopped wearing it.

Every time I look down, there it is, shining back at me. I am enough.

I Am Enough bracelet 

SONTAKEY  I Am Enough Bracelet

May this Oath Bracelet be your reminder that you are perfect just the way you are. That you are enough for your children, you are enough for your friends & family, you are enough for everything that you do. You are enough, mama <3


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The American Academy of Pediatrics says that newborns, especially, do not need a bath every day. While parents should make sure the diaper region of a baby is clean, until a baby learns how to crawl around and truly get messy, a daily bath is unnecessary.

So, why do we feel like kids should bathe every day?

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