Is Baby Getting Enough Motherese?

Posted by Kathryn Stolle on


Statistically, in the US and Canada, around two/thirds of moms from two-parent families work outside the home. And our guess is that you probably fit into this category (we’ll talk about single-working mothers another time)!

 There are so many variables….if you breast feed…have a stay-at-home dad, nanny or day care…part or full time…shift or 9 to 5…you get the point. However, there is one factor common to most, if not all, working mothers – the concern that Baby is receiving the best possible care and attention when mom’s away at work.

 It doesn’t matter who cares for your precious little package, whether it’s a grandparent, aunt, dad, nanny or group care, one of the most important things is that during waking hours, Baby is getting a healthy amount of undivided attention and a good dose of Motherese.

 What is that, you ask? Also called Parentese or Infant Directed Speech, it’s wubbly, cuddly, high pitched Baby Talk common to moms, dads and caregivers around the world when speaking to an infant or toddler.


Motherese Basics

Research[1] has found that that Motherese or Infant-Directed Speech has the following characteristics:

  • A large number of questions
  • Repetitive words and phrases      
  • Frequent use of proper names
  • Infusing communication with emotion
  • Spontaneous
  • Drawn out vowels and slower tempo

It's a building block for language acquisition and infant socialization – especially in Baby’s early stages. It can capture Baby’s complete attention when adult speech can’t and is an interactive exchange between infant and older person. And, yes, even small children revert to Motherese quite naturally when they encounter a baby or have a baby at home.

This doesn’t mean that Baby talk is the only type of speech appropriate for your child. As your infant progresses, generally around 6 to 9 months, you’ll find that you are probably alternating more and more between adult talk – referred to as Adult Directed Speech – and Motherese.  

Many parents don’t feel comfortable using Baby Talk or believe that it leads to the dumbing down of their child. There certainly are examples of children who get along just fine without it, but by and large, the extensive systematic review of studies cited below has shown that it is an important part of a child’s development.


Quality Day Care

Obviously, ensuring Baby’s daily dose of Motherese is much easier when your child can remain at home with a good nanny or is in a high-quality day care situation. But this isn’t always the case, is it? The really good day care centers fill up fast and often have long waiting lists.

If your child is in day care, especially when younger than a year, it’s important to know that Baby is getting much-needed attention, including Motherese.

When you interview a prospective day care, observe how caregivers interact with other infants. If it’s impersonal or strictly Adult Directed Speech, you might want to look elsewhere. If you don’t have the opportunity to observe day care caregivers in action, be sure to inquire whether and how often it is practiced.

There are other aspects of group day care that you’ll want to consider in addition to the caregivers themselves: the quality of the physical environment, whether the activities are age appropriate and how often staff turns over, to name a few.[2] It could mean some extra legwork on your part, but in the end, it’ll be worth it. And don’t wait until the last minute to start looking!


Or a Nanny?

Finding a “good” nanny isn’t always easy either. If you’re lucky, there are grandparents, dad or a relative close at hand who can fill the job.

And even if you have a nanny or another caregiver, make sure they all have some "training". Show them what books and songs your baby likes, let them shadow you for a morning while you feed, diaper and care for your baby. Let them know that you expect them to use plenty of Motherese interacting with your child. After all, they are going to be with your child possibly longer than you any given day.

And what do you do when Baby seems to bond more with the nanny or caregiver than with you as a result? All that means is that Baby is getting the quality care he or she needs. If Baby seems to be happier to see Nanny arrive than upset to see you go, push that little jealous devil sitting on your shoulder off his perch and be thankful!


And how about You?

You finally arrive home tired from a hectic day at work and your nanny informs you that Baby has had a tummy ache all day and really needs you to hold and comfort her or him. All you can think of is getting dinner and putting your feet up, but you just finished this article on Motherese and feel terrible for even entertaining such thoughts. What to do?

Hold Baby for a while until the fussing stops and then keep Baby nearby where you can sing, babble and make eye contact as you go about making dinner and cleaning up. And wait until Baby’s in bed to answer that text that just pinged or check your emails.

 Be creative and find as many activities as you can to intensify the bond you share with your child – even when you are dog tired and just want to curl up in the corner with a good book. Read a story with your baby or toddler curled up next to you – stopping from time to time to engage them. Sing silly songs at the top of your lungs in the car on the way to the store. Get down on the floor at their level and play funny games. 

Or just hold and cuddle your wee one as much and as often as you can. It’s the quality of time you spend interacting joyfully and playfully with your child that counts.

And a good dose of Motherese will ultimately benefit the both of you.



[1] Motherese in Interaction: At the Cross-Road of Emotion and Cognition? (A Systematic Review)

Catherine Saint-Georges,1,2 Mohamed Chetouani,2 Raquel Cassel,1,3 Fabio Apicella,4 Ammar Mahdhaoui,2 Filippo Muratori,4 Marie-Christine Laznik,5 and David Cohen1,2,*



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