Busted! Three milestone myths
#1: All babies should reach each milestone by X months (exactly).
“One of the biggest misconceptions families have is that babies are supposed to hit these milestones within a very specific timeframe,” said Dr. Razaan Byrne, a pediatrician at Children’s Minnesota. The truth is, babies are a lot like us: wonderfully diverse and unique. Every baby crawls, walks and talks at their own distinct pace — and that’s OK. While most milestones do have a general timeline, there’s plenty of wiggle room padded into these dates. Try to view them more as a range than a rigid setpoint.
#2: All babies should master milestones in the same, specific order.
Parents of multiples, or those who have children close in age, are often guilty of this misbelief. “We are going to naturally compare children because we’re human. But I often find myself reassuring parents,” said Dr. Byrne. While some babies skip crawling altogether and zoom right to walking, others are sophisticated chatterboxes who prefer to sit and play for months at a stretch.
Sometimes older babies and toddlers prefer to master one dimension (ex. motor/physical milestones) before shifting gears to something else (ex. language/communication). “Toddlers love to feel competent in what they’re doing, so you might notice that a child will really focus on something, and repeat that something over and over again when they feel like they’re going to be able to do it well.”
#3: If you don’t buy the ‘right’ toy or gear, Baby won’t reach her milestones.
When it comes to toys and gear, it’s not about what you buy or play with — it’s how you play with it, said Dr. Byrne. And the best toy of all is something you already have: yourself!
“I think the most important thing that parents can do is just engage with their child in whatever way that feels most natural, whatever feels most loving and exciting. That is what’s going to be the best thing for their development,” said Dr. Byrne.
Pay attention to Baby’s blossoming personality, too. Whether she loves puppies, playing outside or ‘80s pop hits — you can actually lean into those interests to help motivate her toward those milestones.
→ 2-4 months: Holds head up without support
→ 2-4 months: Pushes up to elbows from tummy
→ 2-4 months: Grabs and bats at toys
→ 4-6 months: Rolls over (both directions)
→ 6-9 months: Sits upright without support
→ 9 months: Crawls, creeps and/or scoots
→ 9 months: Stands while holding onto something
→ 9-12 months: Cruising (walks while holding onto furniture)
→ 12 months: Stands up by himself
→ 12-18 months: Walks all by himself!
Everyday tips for success
Tackle tummy time like a pro.
Before Baby can roll, sit, scoot and walk, she must first master the art of tummy time. “Tummy time allows Baby to be in a position where they can use their muscle groups differently and coordinate movements in a particular way. And that really sets the baseline fundamental skills for motor development,” said Dr. Byrne. Babies spend loads of time on their back, so tummy time is a unique opportunity for Baby to build those important neck, back and arm muscles they’ll need as they twist and teeter toward more complex movements.
‘Help! My baby hates tummy time.’
Don’t fret — this is a common concern with new parents. So why such fuss? One big reason is that it yanks them out of their comfort zone. “They can see a lot more when they’re on their backs and understand where sounds are coming from, which gives them a sense of security,” said Dr. Byrne. Flip them onto their belly, and babies can feel like a fish out of water. It can be quite disorienting for them.
Fortunately, there are a few ways you can help Baby enjoy tummy time more:
1. Put Baby on your chest. Tummy time doesn’t have to be on the floor! “One thing that parents can do is, actually, recline backward on a couch or in a chair, with Baby’s tummy on your tummy or your chest,” Dr. Byrne suggested. This works particularly well the first month or two, until Baby builds enough head and neck muscles to enjoy that position a little better.
2. Start with short, frequent bursts. Instead of setting the timer for a full five to 10 minutes, start with just a minute or two. You can sprinkle these mini-sessions throughout the day, then gradually increase the time as Baby gets more comfortable.
3. Make sure Baby is dry, fed and well-rested. A baby whose tummy is too hungry — or too full — is likely to rebel. Likewise, a tired baby will probably buck at the idea of belly time. Try to find that sweet spot where Baby is happy, rested and in between feeds (easier said than done, but it’s possible!).
4. Get on the floor with them. Reassure Baby by getting down on the floor with them and cheering them on. Scatter a few sensory-rich toys close by to capture their interest.
Turn your house into a safe haven for exploration.
Babies need a lot of space to freely discover their environment and practice their skills.
You can satisfy their hearty appetite for exploration by transforming your home into a safe and inviting place to play.
Travel souvenirs, family heirlooms, fragile art — it can be hard to banish these items to the basement, but take heart: You’ll be able to dust them off soon enough, once Baby is older.
Leave plenty of time for free play.
We live in a busy, fast-paced world. Our weeks are often crammed with commutes, cooking/cleaning, errands and social engagements. But a booked schedule can mean too much time in the car seat, carrier or stroller. Babies need plenty of free time on the floor in order to practice their skills and build those motor muscles. To help Baby crawl, cruise and walk, consider scaling back your schedule to allow ample time to practice those motor skills while playing at home together.
Dress (Baby) for success.
There’s no denying it: babies in itty-bitty jeans and cargo pants are totally cute — but the stiff fabric can hinder their movements. Babies need to be able to bend, twist and stretch their bodies as they explore and wiggle their way toward these milestones.
To maximize their comfort and mobility:
- Stock up on soft, stretchy pants, shorts and leggings
- Look for elastic waistbands, which are more forgiving and comfortable for their (adorably!) plump figures
- Avoid long, flowy skirts and dresses (for now)
- Keep a steady rotation of onesies, which won’t bunch up like shirts do
- Remove clothing tags or choose items with printed labels, as tags can be itchy and distract baby from focusing on these milestones
Concerned about Baby’s progress?
1. Talk to your doctor. Pediatricians are trained to look at all aspects of development. He or she can address your concerns and assess whether Baby’s development still falls within the normal limits or could benefit from interventions.
2. Contact Help Me Grow. A joint initiative of the Minnesota Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Help Me Grow offers free screenings and evaluations for infants and toddlers. Learn more at helpmegrowmn.org.
→ 2 months: Begins to smile at people
→ 2 months: Coos and makes gurgling sounds
→ 4 months: Begins to babble
→ 4 months: Laughs out loud
→ 6 months: Strings vowel sounds together (“ahhh,” “ooooh”)
→ 6 months: Starts to say consonant sounds (“mmm,” “bbbbb”)
→ 6-9 months: Combines vowels and consonants (“da-da-da-da”)
→ 9-12 months: Copies and uses simple gestures and sounds (clapping, waving, nodding head)
→ 12 months: Responds to simple requests (“Give me the book”)
→ 12 months: Says a few simple words like “mama,” “dada” or “uh-oh”
→ 12-18 months: Points to show what he wants or is curious about
→ 12-18 months: Says a number of short, simple words (“truck,” “ball”)
→ 18-24 months: Begins to run and kick/throw balls
Cognitive & communication development:
Everyday Tips for Success
Read early and often
Building a daily love and habit of reading can have a lasting impact on Baby’s language, literacy and early reading skills. In fact, studies have shown that reading early, reading often and reading age-appropriate books can boost a child’s vocabulary and reading skills up to four years later (!).
“When we’re reading a book (versus talking directly to a child), the language is usually more complex and more dynamic than everyday conversations,” noted Dr. Byrne.
“This exposure to more complex language actually helps their brain to develop in a more comprehensive way.”
By reading stories, you open Baby’s eyes and brain to a rich range of words, pictures, emotions and concepts. While some parents feel silly reading to a newborn, the truth is it’s never too early to build Baby’s love and excitement for reading — and to prep her brain for language and literacy.
Set Baby up for success with these easy reading tips:
Stock books in multiple (visible!) areas. A spare moment to read can strike at any time! Be prepared by keeping books in several areas of the house — living room, bathroom, family room, etc. — as well as the car and diaper bag. Display the books in a way that’s easy to see and access.
Remember: Any book is a good book. While it’s true that some books are better tailored to certain ages, your baby will benefit from many types of writing and stories, said Dr. Byrne. Feel free to read the daily news, your favorite novel or the latest issue from your magazine subscription.
It’s OK if you don’t finish the story. Babies’ attention spans are (very!) short. If she loses interest or crawls away mid-story, don’t stress. She still soaked up plenty of benefits from the pages you read.
Talk and sing to Baby (a lot!)
The sheer number of words a baby hears can influence future vocabulary growth — but those spoken words don’t have to come just from books read aloud. Hearing you talk and tell your own stories can also have a powerful impact on their language and communication skills later on.
Feeling silly, stuck or shy? Here are some ways to get your mouth moving:
- Talk about what you’re currently doing (changing diaper, taking bath)
- Sing your favorite songs (doesn’t have to be lullabies!)
- Tell stories about your childhood, favorite vacations, etc.
- Walk around the house/yard, pointing and talking about what you see
Have ‘conversations’ with him
Babies “talk” to us, long before their first word. They’re a noisy little bunch known to coo, gurgle and babble away. You can encourage these pre-speech sounds by cheering them on, “responding” to them (even if you don’t understand), and elaborating by describing what they may be thinking about. (For example, if you’re feeding Baby and he says “bah,” you could say “Yes! This is a bo-ttle” in a slow, clear manner.)
In fact, there’s a special term for this type of slow, simple and animated type of speech: parentese. And studies have shown that regularly conversing with Baby in this “parentese” style leads to more vocalizations and spoken words in their toddler years.
PRO TIP: Skip the shoes!
Whenever possible (especially at home), keep Baby barefoot. This will help with her balance and coordination. Another reason to skip shoes: They muffle the sensory messages that need to travel from her foot to her brain. (Fun fact: The human foot has more than 7,000 nerve endings!) Shoes can also be clunky, making Baby more prone to trips and falls.
Rachel Guyah is a Bloomington-based writer and mother to an adorably dimpled, gap-toothed Energizer bunny (cleverly disguised as a toddler). See her website at rachelguyah.com.