No matter how laidback we try to be, we’re all secretly obsessed with our babies’ development. After all, it’s only natural to want to know if your tot is hitting his targets and developing as well as his friends (Competitive? Us?), and it’s easy to worry if your baby seems to be falling behind in some areas. To put your mind at rest, here’s our guide to the milestones that really matter, and when your little one should reach them.
1. Tracking a moving object
Babies have pretty poor eyesight at birth, but even newborns will gaze at your face while you feed them. Your little one’s ability to focus continues to develop over the coming months.
If your baby has problems focusing and tracking a moving object at 6 weeks, this could indicate sight difficulties or a general developmental delay. If you have concerns, speak to your doctor as soon as possible.
2. Head control
Some babies will be able to hold their head up for a couple of seconds, even as newborns. Others take a little longer, but by 3 months, most can lift their heads while lying on their front. Babies with muscle problems or developmental disorders are unable to lift their heads.
Head control is a skill that needs practice. It’s important to let him have supervised tummy time while he’s awake to strengthen his neck and arm muscles.
Between 3 and 5 months, your baby should start cooing, using mainly vowel sounds, and show an interest
in communicating with you. By 6 months, most will have mastered some consonant sounds, such as “bah” and “gah”, and relish the chance to test their lungs. But if your little one isn’t cooing by about 5 months, it could be a sign of hearing difficulties.
4. Holding an object
Put a toy into your newborn’s chubby little fist and he’ll cling to it for dear life but, at this stage, holding on to an object is an involuntary reflex.
Between 5 and 8 months, he will learn to pick up an object, hold it, put it in his mouth and transfer it from hand to hand. This is a voluntary action, rather than a reflex, so it’s a sign his brain is starting to coordinate his movements.
At about 9 months, he’ll learn how to drop what he’s holding, and so starts the oh-so-entertaining game of throwing toys out of the highchair, then screeching until you give them back.
5. Sitting unaided
Sitting unsupported is one of the first signs your baby is making the big leap from helpless newborn to independent little person - a bittersweet milestone.
If he’s not sitting on his own by 8 months, it may indicate a problem with his muscle strength and tone. Like head control, sitting is something that needs practice. Your baby simply won’t get the hang of it if he spends all day lying flat on his back. Try surrounding him with cushions so he gets used to a stable sitting position and develops his balance. But avoid baby walkers, which force him into an unnatural standing position.
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Somewhere between 4 and 8 months, your baby will start to make repetitive babbling sounds. “It’s very tuneful, almost like they’re having a little conversation without words,” says Laurent. If your baby isn’t trying to communicate by 8 months, it may be a sign of hearing problems. But bear in mind that babies don’t learn to talk unless they’re talked to, so seize every opportunity to chatter away to him, even if you’re only reciting your shopping list or reading the newspapers out loud.
7. Turning towards a sound
Your little one may respond to your voice as early as 3 months, but by 7 months he should turn to you if you call his name and react to quiet noises on either side of him (as long as he’s not distracted by other things). Hearing and speaking are linked, so to make sure your baby’s speech develops normally, it pays to act quickly if you suspect his hearing isn’t right.
If his hearing was normal when it was tested at birth, it’s very unlikely there’s a serious problem, but conditions like glue ear (a build-up of fluid in the middle ear) are common in babies and children, and can cause hearing difficulties. See your paediatrician if you are worried.
8. Pulling up to stand
The babies who like weight-bearing tend to be those who pull themselves up to stand against the furniture earliest - in some cases, as early as 6 months (eek!). Most, however, will begin to pull up at between 9 and 11 months.
Pulling up and cruising (shuffling along on his feet while holding on to the furniture) is a sign your baby has good leg muscle strength and tone, but don’t worry if he doesn’t try to stand until much later. Some children also have a big gap between learning to pull up and taking their first unaided steps.
9. First words
Every baby develops its speech at a different rate. Some talk before 12 months, while others don’t say a single recognisable word until 2. By 12 months, most babies can say three words, which may not be recognisable, but are used in context. So it doesn’t matter if he says “duh” for “dog”, as long as he uses it consistently, it counts as a word.
By 18 months, the majority of toddlers have a vocabulary of about 20 words. By 2, most can use around 200 and start joining them together in twos and threes.
If he’s not saying anything by 2, or appears not to understand you at 18 months, it’s worth seeing your doctor because he may have hearing difficulties. But speech isn’t necessarily an indicator of intelligence - as long as he understands you, the chances are he’s developing normally. Most tots who are not talking by 2 go on to develop perfectly normal speech.
10. First unsupported steps
Just as the babies who enjoy being on their feet from birth tend to pull up to standing earlier, they are usually among the earliest walkers too. The average age for a baby to take his first unsupported steps is 13 months, but the normal range is anywhere between 10 and 18 months. Some babies don’t walk unaided until they’re 2, but if it’s not happening after that, you may want to see your paediatrician.
There is also a strong link between bottom-shuffling (where your baby scoots around on his bottom, rather than crawling) and late walking, but if everything else is developing normally, there’s unlikely to be a problem.
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