Babies grow and develop at their own unique pace however, it’s important to recognise and understand your baby’s developmental milestones. By being aware of these milestones, you can ensure your baby is progressing as expected. If there are any concerns in your baby’s development, you can seek early intervention and leading to better chances of achieving optimal development.
What are developmental milestones for a baby?
Developmental milestones are key achievements your baby reaches as they grow and develop. These milestones encompass your baby’s physical, cognitive, social and emotional progress. It is important to understand that developmental milestones are presented in ranges. This is because every baby will reach different milestones at different times. Understanding what milestones your baby will likely be achieving soon can provide valuable insights into your baby’s overall health and well-being. Furthermore, understanding developmental milestones can give you a clear idea of when you should seek medical advice if you have any concerns about your baby.
Developmental Milestones by Baby’s Age
Birth to 3 months
During this period, babies undergo periods of rapid brain development, physical development and social and emotional development. They are laying foundations to help support their growth.
4 to 6 months
During this next phase of your baby’s life, you will notice an exciting period of rapid physical development. Using the foundations that your baby has learnt in the first 3 months, your baby will continue to build on their cognitive, physical, social and emotional development.
7 to 12 months
How Can I Help My Baby's Development?
Now that we know what the main milestones for our babies are, it is important to explore the variety of ways we can help to support our babies' development.
Activities to Encourage Baby's Physical Development
There are a variety of things we can do with our baby to help them develop their motor skills, coordination and strength. Some activities we can do to support physical development include:
Tummy Time: Tummy time involves placing your baby on their tummy to help strengthen their neck and shoulder muscles. This doesn’t mean placing baby on the floor and leaving them there. Instead, try to think about ways you can both enjoy tummy time together. This might include you lying on the couch with your baby lying on your chest or taking your mat outside and lying down together.
Interactive Toys: By choosing interactive toys that inspire your baby to reach, grab, and kick, you'll be actively contributing to their healthy physical growth.
Daily stretches: Many paediatric physiotherapists have easy-to-follow guides on their Instagram and/or website of simple stretches that can help improve flexibility and coordination.
Stimulating Cognitive Development
As you now know, your baby’s brain is developing rapidly in the first 12 months after birth. There are some ways that you can help support your baby’s cognitive development as well as spend some precious bonding time together too.
Reading Books: Reading books to your little one helps introduce them to language patterns, tones and rhythms. When babies are little, black-and-white books are perfect for stimulating their brains and helping them learn. Once they are older, you may look for colourful pictures or touch-and-feel books to capture their attention.
Sensory Play: Sensory play is an amazing way to help your baby develop through their senses as well as encourage their curiosity. There are many sensory playgroups you can attend, which can also help you meet new friends, or you can use textured toys, fabrics and safe objects for them to play with.
Music: Babies love to listen to music and learn to sing along. Listening to music together will help to develop rhythm through clapping to the songs as well as enhance their hearing. There are many parent and baby music groups you can attend at the library together, or you can just sing to your baby when playing at home.
Fostering Emotional and Social Skills
Helping to build your baby’s social and emotional skills can help them form positive relationships and resilience later in life. Being able to form positive relationships is an essential skill for your baby’s overall well-being.
Responsive Care: One of the most important ways that your baby will learn is by you responding quickly to their This may be responding positively when baby is smiling or cooing at you or cuddling them when they are crying and upset. Responding appropriately to your baby helps them learn security and trust.
Mirrors: Okay, stay with us here for a second… Mirrors can be a great tool for playing with your baby. Why?! Well babies are obsessed with their reflection in the mirror and can stare at themselves for hours. Spending time in front of a mirror together will help them learn how to make facial expressions and encourage them to learn how to imitate you. Cute right?!
Social Interactions: It is important to socialise with other babies and children. Have you ever wondered why your baby stares at other babies or children? This is because these interactions allow your baby to observe and engage with others. This is the beginning of your baby's development of social skills.
When Should I Be Concerned About My Baby’s Development?
Every child will learn new skills and develop at a different pace, and sometimes comparing your child to your friends' children can cause you unnecessary distress. So when should you be concerned and seek medical advice?
When your child takes longer to develop their social, physical or emotional skills, this is called a developmental delay. A developmental delay may be a short-term delay, or it may be long-term. Keeping in mind that “normal” varies a lot, here are some key things to look out for if you are concerned about your baby’s development:
If your baby is showing physical signs that they may need support with their development, these may include:
a. They seem like they can’t see properly. This may mean they are not following you or objects with their eyes. They seem like they can’t hear properly. This may be that they do not turn their head towards noise.
b. It seems like they are unable to use either of their arms or legs.
c. By the time the baby is 4 months, they can’t hold their head up.
d. If they are unable to sit by 9 months of age.
d. If they are unable to stand up even with support by 12 months old.
These may include signs that your baby is not behaving how they should be, such as:
a. Excessive crying: this may be more than one period of extended (>3 hours) crying a day, especially after 4 months.
b. They have an unusual cry that sounds either high-pitched or horse-like.
Social and Emotional Signs
Signs that your baby may need some social or emotional support may include:
a. Your baby doesn’t look at you
b. Your baby doesn’t seem interested in what is going on around them.
c. Your baby isn’t trying to make babbling sounds by 9 months or is using less than 5 words at 18 months old
d. Your baby responds to some sounds but not others.
Most importantly, if you have the instinct that something isn’t right with your baby listen to this. You know your baby better than anyone, and if something doesn’t seem right or they seem to be losing skills over time, it is essential to seek help from a medical professional early. Early intervention is the best thing that we can do to support our baby's development and improve outcomes. See the resources section of this blog for information on where to seek help.
The Benefits of Early Intervention
Early intervention plays a major role in addressing developmental delays in babies and children. Research has shown that during the first few years of a baby’s life, they go through rapid brain development, meaning that it is the best time to intervene and support development if there are any concerns. By picking up any concerns with a baby’s development early, parents and health professionals can work together to provide individualised, targeted support. Therefore, improving the overall development and wellbeing of the baby.
When and How to Seek Help for Developmental Concerns?
If you notice any developmental concerns in your baby, it is essential to seek help as soon as you can. Here are some ways that you can take the next step:
1. Trust your instincts and seek guidance. If you have an immediate concern, it may be best to go to an Emergency Department. If it is not an immediate concern, you may like to call your local GP and make an appointment.
2. When you attend your regular health check-ups with your Early Childhood Nurse, Paediatrician or GP, this is a great time to address any concerns that you may have.
3. Support groups are a great way to feel supported by other parents who may be experiencing similar situations.
Common Myths About Developmental Milestones
There are many myths surrounding developmental milestones, which can confuse and scare parents unnecessarily.
Let’s debunk some common misconceptions about baby’s development:
1. All children develop at the same
The reality is that all babies and children are different and will meet developmental milestones at different ages. The guidelines exist as a way to help encourage families to seek help; however, , factors such as genetics, environment and temperament all come into play when considering a baby’s unique developmental pattern.
2. Development will follow a predictable path
The truth is that some babies may develop really quickly in one area and then slower in others. Development is not a linear process, so it is important not to have rigid expectations.
3. Early development means long-term success
This myth explores the idea that if a baby develops quickly, they must have future success. The reality is there is no correlation between early development and future success, just as there is no association between late development and a lack of success in the future.
4. We need to train our children to be independent
This myth can actually hinder our children’s progression. Trying to train children to be independent can actually have the opposite effect and make them more anxious about the world around them. Independence is a natural development that babies and children will learn over time with love, security and safety.
The main theme that we can see through all of these developmental myths is the lack of embracing individualisation. Remember, all babies are different, and that is a good thing! The most important thing to do is create a safe and supportive environment for our children to learn, grow and develop.
Resources for Further Information
- • Raising Children is a great website with evidence-based information to help you learn about your baby’s growth and development at all ages. https://raisingchildren.net.au
- • Kid Sense involves Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy services for children with developmental challenges. They also have online fact sheets https://childdevelopment.com.au/areas-of-concern/what-is-child-development/
- • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/facts.html
- • Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority https://www.acecqa.gov.au/
- • Early childhood health centres: These are free support centres for families with children 0-5 years old.
- • If your child has been diagnosed with a developmental delay or developmental concerns, the NDIS can help you and your child get services and support. Phone 1800 800 110
- • Parent Line NSW is a confidential telephone advice service for parents and carers in New South Wales. Phone 1300 130 052
- • Mary Sheridan's From Birth to Five Years 5th Edition - Children's Developmental Progress By: Ajay Sharma, Helen Cockerill, Lucy Sanctuary
- • The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did) By: Philippa Perry
- • The Whole-Brain Child By: Daniel J. Siegel, Tina Payne Bryson
Understanding your baby’s developmental milestones can help you to understand what is normal and when you should seek help. From birth until 12 months, babies go through rapid brain development, physical development and social and emotional development.
Being aware of these milestones and that all children will reach milestones at different times can help you play an active role in your baby’s growth. From fostering cognitive development through reading books and sensory play to supporting their physical development with tummy time and interactive toys, you can play a crucial role. It is equally important to play, respond and interact with your baby so they are able to develop their emotional and social development.
Remember, all babies develop at different times and in different ways. Avoiding common myths and enjoying time with your baby is essential. Trust your instincts as a parent, as you know your baby better than anyone. If something doesn’t feel right, or you have any concerns, always take your baby or child to a health professional. In the end, parenting is all about providing a safe and supportive environment for your baby to grow, develop and thrive.
Written By Lauren Brenton
Endorsed Midwife and Founder of One Mama Midwife Pty Ltd
I’m Loz and I’m an Endorsed Midwife who runs Antenatal Classes in the Sutherland Shire. I have completed a Bachelor of Midwifery and a Master of Midwifery. My favourite area is in the labour ward, this is where you can find me most days. One Mama Midwife came about in the height of Covid in 2020, when so many women were missing out on the chance to have antenatal education. Aimed at empowering you with the tools you require to have the pregnancy, birth and postpartum journey that you want to have, with advice and recommendations you can trust.