Although babies tend to do things at different rates, one skill forms the basis of the next. This means they tend to acquire basic skills in the same order.
The importance of baby milestones is twofold. It reassures you that you are providing the necessary skills and information to raise a happy, healthy, well-adjusted child, but they also mean that you can pick up any issues. If milestones continue to be missed, this could raise a red flag.
Kathryn Sneed, the mother of two special needs children, author and founder of singingthroughtherain.net, explains that when your child is born, it’s easy to believe that keeping track of developmental milestones may not seem that important. “After all, you’re a busy, sleep-deprived mom!” But, she adds, they do need to be monitored. She gives the following four reasons:
- “Sometimes a child might be a little behind. That’s OK. Every child grows and changes at his or her own pace and many times there are things you can do at home to help them catch up.” She explains it’s important not to let your child fall too far behind.
- “Depending on how far behind your child may be or depending on the type of milestones they are missing, your doctor may be able to tell you exactly what is going on with your child.”
- They can help you get early intervention and therapy.
- They can help you get a diagnosis.
The milestones listed below offer you a guideline of what you can expect (and from when), but many elements can affect the rate at which these milestones are reached. These include genetics, temperament, stimulation, opportunity and gender.
Baby milestones and what they mean:
Eye contact: 6 – 8 weeks
Your baby will fix his eyes on your face if you are within 25cm and will start to make eye contact. Researchers at the University of Cambridge explain that making eye contact helps your baby’s brainwaves to “get in sync” with yours, which helps with the development of communication and learning. This is one of the first milestones you will notice and is important on an emotional level, as it helps the bonding process and from an intellectual level, as this is the first step towards your baby’s future language development.
Social smile: 6 – 8 weeks
It stands to reason that this is around the same time that the first real smile (and not wind) comes to light. And while you may proudly say your baby has been smiling from around three or so weeks, this is a spontaneous response. The special social smile is generally in response to you smiling at him. It’s an exchange of emotions, and recognition that you are important to him. This is important for bonding and for him to start to make sense of his environment.
Cooing: 8 weeks
Up to now, your baby’s main form of communication has been through crying. But now, he will respond excitedly to familiar people he recognises, and will quieten when you cuddle him or speak to him. He is beginning to discriminate between voices, faces and objects. Early childhood experts explain that your baby’s brain is like a sponge during the first three years of life − constantly soaking up information. Around eight weeks, activity takes place in your baby’s front temporal lobe, which houses the speech centre, which is when he starts cooing. The more you talk to him, the more he will respond – this is his first move into learning how to converse.
Babbling and talking: 12 – 16 weeks
His cooing and sound-making will now move more into babbling. This involves his tongue moving to form sounds. You may find he will practise this skill as much as possible, and may even get louder or shout if you don’t respond to him. This leads to “convesing” by the age of about six months, when he will babble to you and expect a response back. According to speech therapists, if your baby is not producing age-appropriate babbling, this could be an indication of a larger issue, such as hearing loss, speech and language delay or a learning disability. However, some babies may babble later than others. If you have any concerns, consult your doctor or caregiver.
Reaching and grabbing: 5 – 7 months
This is your baby’s way of interacting with his environment, and reveals his interest, curiosity and desires – all of which are the building blocks for learning. You can help encourage this by placing his favourite toy just out of reach. Now is the time to engage with toys, soft activity books and textures that encourage him to engage all of his senses, so he can learn more about his world.
Pulling up and standing: 9 – 10 months
He is independent and ready to take on the world! This is his move towards taking his first steps and is one of the most important gross motor milestones, as it will reveal the strength and stability of his core and legs.
Pincer grasp: 9 – 11 months
From around seven months, he will have been using his fingers and thumb to grab an item he wants. This is refined as he moves from using all of his fingers, to delicately grasping an item between his index finger and thumb. This skill is a great indicator of his fine motor skills, and is another step towards his independence.
Gesturing: 12 months
Along with his advanced babbling, he will start gesturing to make himself understood − be it asking for something, or responding to a question you have asked him. Again, he is making sense of his world, and is communicating his needs and desires with others.
First word: 12 months
Around this time, he will start connecting objects and familiar people with words and names and will try to sound them out. He understands the concept of language, and that a particular sound or word is the linked symbol to that person or object. Speech therapists explain that, generally, babies will start forming words at this age. By 18 months, he may have a repertoire of around 20 to 50 words. However, other babies take a bit longer and may only have a vocab of between five and 10 words. If your baby has not started talking by 18 months, speak to your doctor or specialist as you may want to rule out any other problem.
Kim Bell is a wife, mother of two teenagers and a lover of research and the way words flow and meld together. She has been in the media industry for over 20 years, and yet still learns more about life from her children everyday.