10 Essential Baby Milestones
From standing to playing pretend
6. Pulling up to a stand
(9 to 10 months)
One of the first signs that your baby is getting ready to walk is that he begins to pull himself up to a standing position. "This is one of the most important gross motor [large muscle] milestones because it shows the stability and strength of the legs and trunk, which are both necessary for walking," says Dr. Stein.
It also shows that your child has the motivation to reach a goal -- to get to that red block sitting on the coffee table, for instance. To help your child learn to pull himself up, it's a good idea to give him lots of time to be unencumbered -- to limit the time he spends in the car seat, stroller, and such.
At age 1, Mary Hoskins-Clark's oldest daughter, Katie, now 5, wasn't making any attempts to pull herself up to a stand. "In fact, she wasn't even crawling," says the Westfield, New Jersey, mom of three. So Katie's pediatrician recommended she be evaluated by an occupational therapist, who concluded there was nothing hindering her ability to crawl or walk. The therapist suggested that Hoskins-Clark simply needed to entice Katie to crawl, pull up to a stand, and walk (instead of carrying her everywhere, which she was prone to do), by encouraging her to come and get her favorite toy or sippy cup. Sure enough, at 14 months, Katie started to crawl. Around 16 months she started to pull up to a stand, and was walking at 19 1/2 months.
7. Pincer grasp
(9 to 11 months)
There's the crude pincer grasp that occurs around 7 or 8 months, when babies use all of their fingers and their thumb to pick up a spoon or toy. Then, a few months later, they refine the skill and, with either hand, very neatly take their thumb and forefinger to pick up one Cheerio or one piece of a puzzle. "Getting the pincer grasp is one of the biggest keys to independence," says Lerner. "Eventually, a child will use this grasp to do essential things like feed and dress herself and brush her teeth." Encouraging this skill is as simple as letting your child hang out in her high chair with a few Cheerios or crackers. What if she isn't catching on? Give it time. Only if your child isn't using the pincer grasp by 12 months should you get an evaluation to assess her fine motor skills.
(around 12 months)
When your child has eaten all his peas and motions with wide-open hands "all gone," or points to his favorite book on the bookshelf, this is a preverbal form of language. Developmental experts say that gesturing is a clear sign that your child knows what he's thinking, and he's aware that he can communicate that to you as well.
If you consistently gesture to your child, he'll probably imitate you eventually by doing it back. As with all of the milestones, give him time to get the hang of it before presuming that he's not on track.
9. First word
(around 12 months)
The past months of cooing, babbling, pointing, and gesturing have all been stepping stones to the formation of speech. When your daughter sees a ball and pronounces "ba" or "ball," her brain is making the connection between that sound and the object. "This also signals she's beginning to understand that a sound or a word is a symbol for an object," says Lerner.
On average, children begin talking around 12 months. By 15 to 18 months, some kids may say between 20 and 50 words, while others may say only 5 to 10. At this age, a child should also understand some words, such as when you ask her to "show me your nose."
The best way to promote speech? Spend time talking or singing to your child. Daily reading is another excellent way. If there are no words by 18 months, raise your concerns with your pediatrician, who'll want to rule out hearing problems or screen for developmental delays.
10. Pretend play
(around 18 months)
If you're looking for a little insight into your own habits, look at your toddler, who will often begin pretend play by imitating you. At 21 months, Carina Kilroy would jump at the chance to "catch up with friends" via the family's cordless phone. "Even though she could speak in sentences, when she picked up our phone she just babbled in nonsensical language, but with inflection. You could tell she was trying to sound just like me," says her Reno, Nevada-based mom, Dana Kilroy.
There's also a serious side to pretend play -- it's critical to building your child's symbolic thinking. Ultimately, a baby who lives in a rich learning environment will have lots to smile, coo, and babble about.
Frequent contributor Maureen Connolly is a former Parenting health editor and a mom of three boys.