The 9 major physical baby milestones, signs of developmental delays, and what you can expect along the way
What influences your child's development?
Some kids are daredevils: the first to climb onto the coffee table to see out the window and -- later -- the first to jump off the diving board. They're frequently the ones who walk early. More cautious kids often want to know they can do something well before they do it all.
Think of your own family -- is there one person who's particularly good at writing or loves to build things? Individual fortes can show up as early as age 1, so a child who talks early may well end up being a talented writer or orator. This doesn't mean that children who are late bloomers in these areas won't thrive in them eventually, though.
Kids with an older sib often reach milestones sooner than expected because they push themselves to keep up. On the flip side, having an older sibling may also mean that milestones come late -- if, for instance, a child has an older brother or sister who gets his toys for him rather than letting him get them himself. So sometimes you'll need to act as a referee, reminding your older child to let his brother try things by himself or not to push him too hard to do something he's not ready for yet.
Babies born early often take longer than others to reach milestones, but by age 2 they usually catch up to their peers. In fact, pediatricians say that when gauging a preemie's development, parents should begin counting from the child's due date, not from his birth date. So a child born three months early should be expected to reach at 6 months the milestones of a 3-month-old.
Signs of developmental delays
Most of the time, kids who are slow to develop in one area catch up just fine. But sometimes late milestones can signal a problem. The warning signs:
* Your child is delayed in more than one area. For instance, she's 15 months old and hasn't uttered a word or taken a step, and she seems to be wrapped up in her own world, or she doesn't turn to look at you when you enter a room or say her name.
* The delay is two months or more from the norm. He's 17 months old and not walking, or he's 7 months and hasn't smiled yet.
* Your child doesn't seem to understand or respond when you talk. Somewhere between 8 and 12 months, most babies will point to their favorite stuffed animal if you ask them where it is, or at least look in the right direction. By 12 to 15 months, they'll begin to respond to simple verbal requests: If you ask a typical 1-year-old to bring you her shoe, she will.
Easing your worries
Milestones are often a source of stress for new moms, particularly if they focus too much on checking off items on a development chart rather than simply enjoying the glorious journey of their child's growth. How to stop the worries:
Back away from the computer. Fueled by Internet searches, your mind can travel down all sorts of frightening pathways if your baby is not hitting his milestone markers. But the truth is that "normal" has very broad parameters.
Stop comparing your baby to others. There is no indication that minor variations in the achievement of milestones have any relationship to later abilities or disabilities. So just because your friend's little achiever rolls over sooner than your baby doesn't mean your kid is less advanced.
Seek help in extreme cases. A mild delay in one area of development is generally not a cause for concern, but if it's coupled with other delays, talk to your doctor. Also, let your pediatrician know when there's a lag of more than a few months in any area of development.
Your baby's first year is full of wonderful surprises -- for him and for you. Try not to worry about whether he's smiling, crawling, or walking "on time," and offer him gentle encouragement. And most of all, enjoy the ride!