HELP! My Baby Called the Nanny “Mama” Before Me Am I terrible mama?

By Lauren Tetenbaum

Welcome to Babe’s newest advice column, featuring guidance from perinatal mental health and relationship expert Lauren Tetenbaum (AKA The CounseLaur). The information herein does not and is not intended to constitute mental health, medical, or legal advice. Please contact your healthcare provider if you have specific needs, the Maternal Mental Health Hotline for on-demand support, or 911 for emergency assistance. Want to submit a question? Email

Q: My baby called our nanny “Mama” before me. Am I a terrible parent?

A: First, let me remind you that a mom who worries about whether she is a terrible parent is definitely not one. The fact that you are concerned about connecting with your baby reflects that you care and that you want to do everything you can to meet their needs.

Second, “Mama” is a common word for little ones learning to talk. “Babbling is the earliest stage of language development and typically consists of consonant sounds that are easiest to produce, like m, d, or b,” explains Cassie Zises, MS, CCC-SLP, TSLLD, speech pathologist and co-founder of Look Who’s Talking, which offers multiple speech-language and sensory enrichment classes throughout the New York area. “Babies use reduplicated babble where they repeat those early consonants and syllables – think mamama – before using true words.” And they probably aren’t associating the word with any person quite yet. Cassie confirms: “Often a baby will say mama or baba, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they identify or use these as words or names. Rather, they’re practicing sounds they can make.”

Finally, it’s understandable – in fact, enlightening – that it still may feel crappy. You and your baby are constantly having new experiences, and it’s tough when things don’t go as you may have expected! Check in with yourself about why guilt or worry is popping up for you. Are you feeling like you don’t spend enough time with your baby? Would it be helpful to strategize with your caregivers about things like not taking the baby to a class or on the swing set until after you do it with them for the first time? Is there something deeper going on, like postpartum anxiety or pressure to be a perfect parent? You are not alone, and it’s okay to want reassurance and an opportunity to express your feelings safely. Reach out for the support you deserve.

Lauren A. Tetenbaum, LMSW, JD, PMH-C is a writer and social worker specializing in women’s mental health. She is also Mommy to Luke (2016) and Eva (2018). Through her counseling practice, Lauren provides therapy in NY & CT, facilitates groups and workshops to empower postpartum and other women in corporate settings, and contributes to media on topics like maternal mental health, gender equity, and working parenthood. A former lawyer and a forever women’s rights advocate, Lauren feels privileged to counsel women through life transitions when they most need and deserve support.