How do you know that your baby is growing at a normal rate? Are there important newborn milestones and baby development goals that your baby should accomplish in order to be doing well?
As you celebrate each new skill and movement, how do you know that your baby is developing at the same rate as other babies? Babies are allowed to grow and develop at their own pace, but your pediatrician or family doctor will check to make sure that he hits some developmental and growth milestones according to established medical guidelines.
What are Milestones?
Milestones are designated behaviors or skills that babies are expected to reach around a given age. Rather than giving one age at which all babies should reach each milestone, doctors are given acceptable age ranges. As long as your baby hits each milestone within the age range or close to it, you know that your baby is developing at the pace experienced by most of his peers.
When a baby struggles to gain weight or develop new skills at the expected rate, doctors may do some exploratory testing to determine the cause. Failure to thrive and grow may mean your baby isn’t receiving adequate nutrition, which is often referred to as failure to thrive. Developmental delays could mean that your baby just needs more time or that he suffers from a disorder that is causing the delay.
Breastfeeding babies often are thinner than their formula fed peers but hit the mental and other physical milestones faster, so think of milestones as general guidelines. You shouldn’t obsess over any list of milestones or pressure your baby to develop new skills according to a schedule. Your doctor will keep track of the milestones at your routine checkups and will let you know if additional testing or changes to the home environment or baby’s schedule are necessary.
In the meantime, enjoy your baby as he grows from a dependent infant to a confident toddler and maturing young child. It helps to keep milestones in mind, but they shouldn’t guide your parenting decisions unless there is a reason for intervention.
Growth Milestones for Babies
In the United States, growth charts are used to see where babies fall in comparison to other babies. Your doctor will use your baby’s length, head circumference and weight to determine what percentile your baby ranks at each checkup. The chart for babies under the age of two is created by the World Health Organization (WHO).
There are also some general guidelines that you may hear from some sources. For instance, most babies double their birth weight within the first five or six months of life. By his first birthday, your baby may easily triple his birth weight.
If you suspect that your baby isn’t gaining weight or growing in length as expected, schedule a doctor’s appointment for a wellness check. Your doctor can use the official charts to determine if there is reason for concern. There are many reasons that babies may not grow as quickly as expected, and some are easy to resolve if they’re detected early.
Developmental Milestones for Babies
You may see some variations on these milestones from different sources. For instance, skills listed for the 0-3 month category may develop in your baby toward the beginning of the fourth month. Those small variances are completely normal.
0-3 Month Newborn Milestones
- Your baby’s hands may appear jerky and unsteady, but he can pull them up to his face and move them around close to his body.
- Your baby’s legs may appear jerky and unsteady, but he can kick them out and pull them up at least a little toward his belly.
- During tummy time, your baby can raise his head or chest from the ground and hold it steady. It will appear jerky and may not last long at first, but his neck will get stronger by the end of three to four months of age.
- Your baby can push up on his arms when placed on his tummy.
- Your baby’s eyes can focus on objects up to 12 inches away. He sees black and white easier than color.
- Your baby can squeeze his hands in tight fists.
- Your baby responds to noises in the surrounding environment, signaling that he can hear clearly.
- Some noises like your voice may sound familiar to your baby.
- When an object moves slowly across your baby’s vision, he can track it with his eyes.
4-6 Month Baby Milestones
- Your baby can focus intently on faces and nearby objects. He may recognize familiar faces and objects.
- When you hold your baby in standing position, he can push down against the ground, your legs or other sturdy surfaces.
- Your baby can stretch his fingers open and closed fully. He may reach for toys and other objects of interest sitting nearby.
- When given a rattle, your baby can shake it around.
- Your baby is cooing and babbling regularly. He may start trying to copy your sounds.
- You can see the beginning of hand-eye coordination as your baby moves.
- Your baby can pass an object from one hand to the other.
- During tummy time, your baby can roll from his back to his stomach and vice versa.
- Your baby may start playing with his feet and hands.
7-9 Month Developmental Milestones
- Your baby is developing stronger hand-eye coordination as the months roll by.
- Your baby can sit up on his own or with slight assistance.
- Your baby is using his hands, feet and mouth to explore the surrounding world with great curiosity.
- When an object of interest is presented, your baby reaches out to grab it.
- When objects are placed out of reach, your curious baby may lean over, reach and take other actions in attempt to get the items.
- When you baby is held in standing position over a firm surface, he can hold his full weight on his legs. He just might not have the balance to stand independently yet.
- Your baby is developing enough coordination to roll or crawl.
- When objects are moved across your baby’s field of vision, he can turn his head to track it rather than tracking only with his eyes.
- Your baby’s field of vision should extend to the full range experienced by older children.
- Your baby can see objects in full color now.
- When you call your baby’s name, he turns toward you.
- Your baby takes notice of his face and other reflections in mirrors.
- Your baby enjoys playing peek-a-boo and can grasp the concept of the hidden object reappearing.
- Your baby may “walk” while holding onto both of your hands for strength support and balance.
10-12 Month Milestones
- Your baby may speak his first word, and you should start to recognize more of his words as the months pass.
- While your baby isn’t speaking full sentences yet, he can use facial expressions and words or sounds to respond to his environment. He may show his emotions and respond to noises or people nearby.
- Your baby can wave bye-bye and make other simple gestures.
- Your baby will start to pull himself up to a standing position with support or while holding a secure surface.
- Your baby will develop the strength and balance to take his first step, which will lead to more steps and eventually to walking.
- Your baby can use his thumb and forefinger to pinch or grip items.
- Your curious baby is now biting, shaking, throwing and otherwise testing the strength of his toys and other objects.
- Your baby is starting to understand what objects are used for and can point to items in books when you say their names.
Things to Consider
If your baby was born premature, he may not hit the developmental and growth milestones that are used to monitor full-term babies. That doesn’t mean that your baby is abnormal or will never catch up with his peers. It simply means that he may grow according to slightly different guidelines. Many preemies catch up with their peers at some point while others always have developmental delays that are a part of their unique lives.
Some things that you can do to help your baby develop healthfully include:
- Hold your baby close while encouraging touch and exploration. Your baby may develop grip strength while gripping your finger. He may explore touch by feeling your face and neck.
- Have conversations with your baby. Maybe he can’t talk back in words that you understand, but he needs to hear how you express yourself so that he may one day do the same.
- Allow your baby to play in different positions and locations. There are many safe baby seating options and contained play systems on the market. The more variation your baby experiences, the more muscles he will learn to put into action.
- Create a safe environment that allows your baby to feel loved and supported. Healthy growth requires a healthy mental state.
Remember that milestones are tools used to help medical professionals identify children who may have developmental or growth delays. Many healthy babies fail to reach some milestones but are never considered abnormal or diagnosed with medical conditions. Your baby will grow at his own pace, and that’s perfectly normal.