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Baby Steps: Milestones through 18 Months

0-4 Months: Noggin Know-how

Peanut. Beach ball. Construction cone. Because an infant's head is soft and malleable -- making it possible to pass through the birth canal -- it can resemble many things post-delivery. Don't be alarmed: Many newborns have asymmetrical noodles. However, too much time in one position can result in positional molding, where your baby's head stays uneven long after the birth-related lopsidedness evens out. The Mayo Clinic offers a few tips for offsetting positional molding:  

Change direction 
Alternate the direction of your little one's face while she's sleeping. Do not use a pillow or other soft bedding to keep her head in place.

Hold your baby 
If you hold and support your baby's head while he's awake, it will relieve the pressure induced by infant seats, car seats, swings and carriers.  

Lay her down 
Place your baby on her back to play. Make sure the surface is firm. Keep close supervision, and if you must leave the room, bring your baby with you.  

Get creative 
Consider moving the crib occasionally to give your baby a different vantage point. Or, while playing on the floor, position your baby so that he will have to turn away from the flattened side of his head to look at the rattle, book or toy you're holding.  

5-8 Months: Beating the Bogeyman

By now you've certainly seen your baby scared, whether in response to an unexpected noise, a stranger, an angry tone of voice (hey, you're not the first mom to let loose on her partner!), or even the sights and sounds from an action-packed TV show. Unfortunately, those experiences can come back to haunt her and give her nightmares -- the terrified, piercing scream will be hard to miss.  

Want to say goodbye to the bogeyman? If your baby's had a passing fright, chances are the bad dreams will subside in with time. But if exposure to the source of his terrors continues, he is likely to keep having bad dreams. If you can't remove the offending object or event (like thunder or a fire engine), help him adjust by showing him that these things won't hurt him. Calmly soothe and remind him that he's safe. He may not exactly understand the words, but he'll get the message from your actions. And soon enough, sweet dreams will return.  -- Anita Sethi, Ph.D.{C}  

9-12 Months: What's the Point?  

Pointing, a skill your baby is likely developing at this age, is a key building block for speech. "It's a nonverbal way of communicating that everyone understands," says Penny Glass, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist and director of the Child Development Program at Children's National Medical Center, in Washington, D.C. "It evolves from the shared eye gaze that babies begin practicing with caregivers around 6 months. For example, if she's hungry, she may look at her bottle on the table, and then look at you." Here are some tips for helping your little one get to the point.  

Name the object 
He may point to a dog, prompting you to say, "That's a big dog." Each time you name what he's pointed to, he learns there's an association between words and objects, which is what speech is all about. Pointing also helps teach your child about the back-and-forth of conversation.  

Lend a hand 
"Encourage her to point by lending a hand," says Susan Schwartz, clinical director of the Institute for Learning and Academic Achievement at the NYU Child Study Center. Gently take her arm and gesture while you say: "Look at the airplane in the sky."  

Join in 
Make sure you also point toward the objects, since babies learn through imitation.  -- Mindy Berry Walker  

13-18 Months: Battling the Binky  

While your little one is happily sucking away on his pacifier, there you are, like a movie villain, hatching an evil plot to eliminate it from his routine. No need to be overzealous. For the first 10 months, babies have a natural urge to suck independent of feeding, so depriving him of the opportunity to suck when he needs to will only frustrate him. It's still okay when he's a toddler too. It serves as a comforting mechanism, and most children stop their sucking habits before they turn 3 or 4. (As long as they stop before permanent teeth come in, you're fine.) But that doesn't mean pacifiers can't lead to bad habits. If you think your baby's a binky junkie, try these tips.  

Set limits 
Gradually wean your child off the pacifier by only allowing it during certain hours of the day.  

Praise her! 
Reward your child when she does not use the pacifier. Use a daily reward, or offer lots of hugs.  

Keep him busy 
Oftentimes children use pacifiers to relieve boredom, so keep his hands busy or distract him with fun things to do.

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