Baby milestones are the benchmarks for typical behavior at different stages in infancy. The initial years of a child’s life are crucial for the development of their brain, especially when it comes to their brains. During this stage, their cognitive capacity expands rapidly, impacting their long-term development.1
- What are developmental milestones?
- Why milestones are important?
- Importance of tracking
- How to promote a child’s growth
- Factors affecting development
What are Baby Milestones?
Baby developmental milestones serve as benchmarks for typical behavior at different ages in childhood. These aid parents and caregivers in gaining a better understanding of their child’s developmental progress and recognizing any potential delays or disorders in the early stages.
Essential baby milestones cover five main areas of development: gross motor, fine motor, problem-solving, receptive and expressive language, and social-emotional development.2
Development milestones are moments of celebration and growth in your child’s life, including starting to crawl, their first steps, smiling for the first time, and talking.
Why is it important to Understand Developmental Milestones?
You can easily monitor your children’s natural progress by downloading or creating a milestone chart and recording their achievements week by week. This could even be a fun crafting activity for your baby shower!
Achieving milestones at expected ages and stages indicates typical development, while achieving them earlier may suggest advanced development compared to peers. On the other hand, if your child misses or is delayed in reaching certain milestones, it could be an early sign of a potential developmental delay.3
Not only does tracking milestones provide you with a comprehensive picture of your child’s development over time, but it also helps you identify any patterns or delays, prompting you to provide support and intervention if needed.4
Plus, this record can be a valuable tool for healthcare providers during check-ups, allowing them to make well-informed decisions about your child’s healthcare.
Different Types of Developmental Milestones
There are five domains of development.
- Gross motor milestones involve large muscle group skills that lead to self-directed mobility, like your child’s first confident steps as they explore the world around them.
- Fine motor development is all about those small muscles, especially in the hands, and how they help your child in daily activities like holding a spoon, drawing, or even buttoning up a shirt.
- Receptive and Expressive Language development opens the doors to your child’s world of communication and includes both speech and nonverbal communication skills.
- Cognitive development involves refining various skills, including problem-solving, memory, reasoning, and self-help capabilities. You can think of this as the mental gymnastics your child does as they refine these skills.
- Socioemotional and behavioral development revolves around your child’s attachment to caregivers, their journey in learning regulatory strategies, and their budding social interactions with others.
The Importance of Tracking and Documenting Your Child’s Developmental Progress
During early childhood, your child’s brain is like a sponge, absorbing knowledge at an astonishing rate. About 90% of their brain development takes place within the first year of life, and full development is typically reached by around age 7.5
In pediatrics, during the transition from a child’s first year into toddlerhood, their synaptic network develops rapidly. In a process called myelination, specific neurons are activated due to various life experiences, resulting in the formation of new brain connections and fortifying existing ones.
To increase efficiency in neuronal transmissions, synaptic pruning occurs, where unused neurons and synapses are eliminated.6
This process continues from early childhood to puberty, meaning your child’s experiences during these crucial years can shape their brain. Your actions as a parent play a significant role in nurturing this growth, so remember, the love and attention you give have a profound impact.
Critical Periods and Plasticity
Throughout our lives, there are specific periods when different brain regions are more flexible, open to change, and primed for learning. These periods, known as “sensitive” or “critical” periods, create a neural blueprint of our world and influence our future decision-making and actions.7
During critical periods, synaptic connections in some parts of the brain are more flexible or ‘plastic.’ This means that new connections can be formed, or existing ones can be strengthened, enhancing their functionality. However, once this time window has elapsed, the connections become more stable and less prone to change as time progresses.8
Picture it like a house being built. During the critical periods, the structure is more malleable, allowing new rooms (connections) to be added or existing ones to be reinforced. However, as time passes, the structure solidifies, becoming less amenable to change.
Typical Developmental Milestones
Here are the developmental milestones by age.9
- Wandering eyes and able to focus attention on nearby objects (8-12 inches)
- Recognizes certain sounds or familiar voices
- They can lift their chin while lying on their stomach
- They turn their heads side to side when on their back
- Sudden sounds or voices cause a startled response
- Cries to express distress
- A social smile is developed
- Vocalizes and coos in response to caregivers
- They have the strength to lift their chest while lying on their stomach
- They clasp their hands together
- They can now raise their head and chest when lying on their stomach, using their arms for upper body support
- They stretch and kick their legs while lying on their stomach or back
- Grasps and shakes objects and toys
- Their facial features and gestures become more expressive
- Focuses on and follows moving objects
- Persistently clutches and grasps at objects
- Starts learning to roll over
- Chuckles and laughs loudly
- They can be pulled into a seated position without head lag
- They can sit with their hands in front of them to hold themselves up
- They can hold more than one object at once
- They actively listen and start to babble in response to caregivers, using consonants as opposed to only vowel sounds
- They reach for and can feed themselves easy finger foods
- ‘Stranger anxiety’ forms, where children are more cautious around unfamiliar individuals while seeking comfort from familiar faces
- Sits steadily without support
- They learn to extend their arms to the sides for balance
- Turns to parents for assistance when feeling confused or frustrated
- They display understanding by looking at specific objects when they are named
- They will refuse food when they are full
- Standing using objects to pull and hold themselves up
- They ‘bear walk’, using their hands and feet
- Gaze monitoring develops, allowing them to follow an adult’s eyeline
- Separation anxiety develops now as they are more aware of and attached to familiar people
- Vocalize to gain attention
- Standing independently and walking either on their own or while holding a caregiver’s hand
- They have a growing understanding of the word “no” and start to use words themselves
- They share interests by showing objects to others, as well as pointing to things to express their desires
- They can assist in dressing and finger-feeding themselves
- Uses gestures to communicate
- At this stage, children become capable of running and seating themselves in a chair independently.
- Pretend play becomes an everyday activity, often involving imitation of daily ‘adult’ activities such as cooking, driving, or talking on the telephone.
- They understand the concept of possessiveness and the idea of ‘mine.’
- Emotionally, they experience shame and guilt when they’ve done something wrong, which may influence their choices.
- Their vocabulary continues to expand, and they start recognizing people, body parts, and specific objects with more precision
- At the two-year mark, children typically refer to themselves by their name and can construct small sentences of 2–3 words.
- Physically, they can open doorknobs, walk carefully downstairs while holding a rail, kick a ball, and start to learn how to jump.
- More independent in dressing now, they start to undress themselves without assistance.
- Emotionally, they start to understand and express their feelings better and can mask their emotions when necessary.
3-4 Year Milestones
- Children make a significant leap in language development here, starting to speak in paragraphs, tell stories, and engage in back-and-forth conversations
- They begin to use pronouns correctly and can identify their gender, as well as that of their peers.
- Physically, they are more agile, ascending and descending stairs alternating their feet and without the need to hold onto a rail
- Their imaginative and creative play blossoms, and pretend play still blossoms
- They become more proactive in sharing without requiring as much prompting
4-5 Year Milestones
- Children at this stage can identify several colors, numbers, and signs, like their favorite brand or food logo.
- They become independent in everyday tasks such as washing their hands, brushing their teeth, using the bathroom, and using a fork for eating.
- Their physical coordination improves, and they can balance both feet and even hop on one a few times.
- Socially, they learn to play in groups and develop preferences for certain friends
- They become increasingly skilled at recognizing and understanding certain emotions within themselves
Baby milestones table
|AGE||GROSS MOTOR||FINE MOTOR||COGNITIVE||SOCIAL/EMOTIONAL||LANGUAGE|
|1 month||Lifts chin on belly|
Turns head on back
|Clenches fists near to face|
Focuses on and follows objects
Stimulated by high-contrast black and white patterns
|Cries to express distress|
Distinguishes their mother’s face from others
|Gurgling and throaty noises|
Startle response to sudden noises (receptive)
|2 months||Lifts chest from their stomach||Holds hands clasped together|
|Opens mouth upon seeing breast or bottle|
Follows large, highly contrasting objects with their gaze
|Smiles reciprocally to adult voices and expressions||Social skills like smile (expressive)|
Cooing and vowel sounds
|3 months||Uses forearms to hold themselves up from stomach|
Rolls onto side
|Hands are unclenched half of the time|
Examine their fingers curiously
|Move hands to mouth and face |
Tracks objects in a circular motion while lying on their back
Shows interest in toys
|Displays displeasure to sour taste or loud sounds|
Tracks movements across a room with their gaze
|Focuses on person talking|
Giggles and chuckles
Responds vocally to communication
|4 months||Prop themselves up on their wrists. Sits with some trunk support|
Rolls over from tummy to back
No head lag when pulled to sitting position
|Primarily keeps hands openGrips onto clothing|
|Temporarily grasps a breast or bottleExplores objects with their mouth|
Gazes longer at unfamiliar faces compared to familiar ones
|Smiles at pleasurable sights or sounds|
Calms down upon hearing their parent’s voice
Engages in back-and-forth vocal exchanges
Vocalizes even when by themselves
Turns head towards sound
Stops crying when comforted by a soothing voice
|6 months||Sits briefly supported by hands|
Turns over while lying on their tummy, and shifts weight onto one hand
|Reaches for and grasps at objects with one hand|
Transfers objects from one hand to another
Uses a raking motion to pick up small items
|Self-feeds small foods|
Explores their own reflection and makes sounds doing so
Bangs and shakes toys
|Displays social anxiety||Stops briefly in response to the word “no”, anduses gestures to indicate they want to be held|
Pays attention to talking and responds with vocal sounds
Vocalizes by repeating sounds with consonants
|7 months||Sits confidently without support|
Extend their arms to the sides for balance and protect themselves from falling
|Holds objects using their fingers and palm (radial-palmar grasp)||Chooses not to eat more than needed|
Explores various features of a toy
Discovers partially hidden objects
|Alternates gaze between an object and parent when seeking assistance||Turn their gaze toward a familiar object when named|
Pays attention to music
Expands the range of syllables they use
|9 months||Balances on hands and feet, resembling a standing posture|
Starts crawling and pulls themselves up to stand
|Pokes with index finger|
Grasps for fallen objects or toys
|Self-feeds better, biting and chewing|
Shows curiosity and developed hand-eye coordination using toys like bells to produce sounds, or pulling on a string to retrieve something
|Displays separation anxiety|
Visually recognizes familiar people
Responds to gestures or phrases following indicators
|Responds well to their name|
Engages in babbling with a variety of sounds and syllables
Imitates and mimics sounds
|1 year||Stands steadily with arms raised and legs apart|
Takes first independent steps
|Picks up small objects using their thumb and forefinger (pincer grasp) |
Holds crayons and attempts scribbling after observing
|Use their fingers to feed themselves during part of a meal|
Will lift the lid of a box to discover a toy
Cooperates and helps with dressing
|Safely navigates downstairs by crawling|
Runs with good coordination
Sits independently in a small chair
Understands and follows one-step commands
Uses several gestures like waving and reaching while vocalizing
|18 months||Walks downstairs holding the handrail and taking one step at a time with both feet.|
Kicks a ball without needing a demonstration
|Throws a ball while standing|
Starts to attempt vertical strokes when scribbling
|Explores the house without constant adult supervision|
Able to match pairs of objects together
Can dresses and undress independently
|Actively engages in pretend play with others|
Displays shame when they do something wrong
|Recognizes themselves, pointing to their own body|
Understands the concept of ownership and recognizes what belongs to them
Uses 10 to 25 words
Mimics sounds from their surroundings, including animal noises
|2 years||Opens a door using a doorknob|
Drinks using a straw
Categories or arranges objects based on common characteristics
Matches real objects with corresponding images or pictures
Demonstrates proper use of objects they are familiar with
|Throws objects using an overhand motion.|
Able to copy the shape of a circle and horizontal line when given an example
|Uses toilet alone, wiping after bowel movement|
Washes face and hands and brushes teeth alone
Uses fork well
Recognizes five to six colors
Draws a four- to six-part person
|Engages in parallel play|
Begins to mask emotions for social etiquette
|Refers to themself by name|
Follows two-step commands
Understands me/you, distinguishing between themselves and others
Forms two-word sentences using a noun and a verb to express themselves
Uses 50+ words
|3 years||Balances on one foot for 3 seconds|
Ascends stairs without assistance, alternating their feet, and without holding onto a railing
Walks heel to toe
|Catches ball with stiff arms|
Reproduces a circle shape by drawing or tracing
Awkwardly cuts side-to-side with scissors
Strings small beads well onto a string or cord
Replicates the construction of a bridge with cube-shaped objects
Pours liquid from one container to another
Puts on shoes that do not have laces without help.
Unbuttons clothing on their own
Draws a person with two to three distinct body parts
Understands concepts like long and short, big and small, and more and less
Knows own gender and age
|Shares toys and items with others, independently or with encouragement|
Develops imaginary fears
Engages in imaginative and pretend play
Uses own words to describe what someone else is thinking
|Identifies specific parts in pictures|
Names body parts with their function
Groups objects based on similarities, such as different foods or toys
Uses 200+ words
Uses pronouns and plurals correctly
Constructs three-words sentences
|4 years||Maintains balance on one foot for several seconds|
Hops on one foot two to three times
Makes standing broad jumps, covering 1 to 2 feet
|Throws a ball overhand 10 feet|
Catches a bounced ball
Replicates the shape of a square
Ties a single knot
Cuts out a circle
Writes part of their first name
|Walks downstairs with a rail, alternating feet|
Balances on one foot for more than 8 seconds
Skips and hops on one foot 15 times
Makes running broad jumps, covering 2 to 3 feet
Walks backward heel-toe
|Becomes interested in deception, and shows concern about being tricked by others|
Develops a specific friendship or preference for a particular friend
Identifies and labels their own emotions, including happiness, sadness, fear, and anger
Engages in and enjoys group play activities
|Follows three-step commands|
Points to things that are the same versus different
Understands and uses adjectives
Uses 300 to 1,000 words
Narrates and tells stories
Speech is clear and understood by others
Uses “feeling” words
|5 years||Walks down stairs with a rail, alternating feet|
Balances on one foot for more than 8 seconds
Skips and hops on one foot 15 times
Makes running broad jumps, covering 2 to 3 feet
Walks backward heel-toe
|Copies drawing a triangle|
Can place a paper clip onto a sheet of paper
Uses clothespins to transfer small objects
Cuts with scissors
Writes their first name
|Spreads with a knife|
Draws an 8- to 10-part person
Correctly state quantities less than 10
Names letters/numerals, even when presented out of their typical sequence
Identifies and names ten different colorsKnows sounds of consonants and short vowels
Reads and understands 25 words
|Has a group of friends|
Develops the understanding and willingness to apologize when they make errors
Responds verbally to others’ good fortune
|Distinguishes between their right and left sides|
Enjoys and produces rhyming words and alliterations
Accurately identifies and points to different spatial locations
Echoes back sentences of six to eight words
Provides straightforward explanations for basic words
Uses 2,000 words
Knows telephone number
Responds to “why” questions
Narrates stories with a clear beginning, middle, and end
How to Support and Promote Your Child’s Growth
Luckily, it’s super easy to monitor your child’s development from birth! There are assessments that can accurately measure your child’s progress and are often simple enough for parents to complete and review with a doctor. Two standard tools are the Parents’ Evaluation of Developmental Status (PEDS) and the Ages and Stages Questionnaires (ASQ).
Additionally, the Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales Developmental Profile Infant-Toddler Checklist (CSBS-DP IT-Checklist) is designed for kids aged six to 24 months. It’s a valuable resource that can identify language delays, autism, and other developmental issues, often before parents even notice.
Parents can use these assessments as a personal milestone chart, checking off developmental milestones as their child achieves them. This can also serve as a helpful reference for parents to identify possible concerns and determine when it might be necessary to consult a healthcare professional.
Factors Contributing to Atypical Development
Missing significant developmental milestones can indicate potential long-term developmental issues.
Identifying and addressing these issues early on can significantly boost a child’s chances of healthy development. However, pediatricians are often the first to identify these red flags. It is equally crucial for parents to be well-informed about the factors that can impact their child’s growth.
Adverse Childhood Experiences
Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) create child trauma like growing up with a mentally ill or substance-abusing parent, enduring abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual), emotional neglect, witnessing domestic violence, or suffering parental loss.
Prolonged ACEs create toxic stress, with child maltreatment being the leading cause. Such chronic stress can negatively impact brain development, causing issues like impaired cognition, memory, and mental health.10
Toxic stress can arise from various sources, including dysfunctional families, substance abuse, socioeconomic troubles, domestic conflict, and bullying. Even less severe but persistent, daily stressors in family relationships can be toxic to children. These stressors trigger the stress response system, laying the foundation for long-term physical and mental health challenges.11
Poverty has a unique impact on child development and can lead to adverse childhood experiences (as discussed above), although ACEs do occur at all socioeconomic levels.
Low socioeconomic status (SES) raises the likelihood of stressors within the home and neighborhood, including exposure to toxic substances like lead and air pollution, which can affect children’s emotional regulation and increase obesity risks.
Children in low SES households may also face challenges in language skills, self-regulation, and certain types of memory, reflecting potential developmental issues in language centers, prefrontal cortical systems, and memory systems.12
Additionally, parents dealing with mental health or substance abuse issues may need assistance in promoting their child’s growth and development.
When to Seek Professional Help
If you have concerns about your child’s development or notice a significant development delay, seek professional help.
Your baby’s pediatrician can assist or refer you to a specialist. For instance, children showing potential red flags in social communication might be evaluated for autism spectrum disorders. Kids with receptive or expressive language delays may be referred for treatment by a speech/language pathologist or an audiologist.
Final Thoughts on Baby Developmental Milestones
While developmental processes typically follow a set pattern, it is critical to recognize that a child’s unique developmental journey is shaped by a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic factors, which can also cause hindrance or growth. Intrinsic factors include the child’s genetic attributes and overall health, while parental and sibling roles, socioeconomic status, and the cultural environment influence external factors.
Remember this when it comes to your approach to parenting and tracking your child’s developmental progress.
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