For an expecting mother, initially, the greatest fears are focused on the well-being of the baby growing inside the womb. Is my baby healthy inside? Is my delivery going to be difficult? Will I be able to give birth to my child comfortably? However, when the baby actually arrives, most parents express heightened excitement and love, but also increased anxiety and worry about the newborn.
From the moment you first hold your baby in your arms to the baby’s first birthday, every day is memorable because of the beautiful baby milestones. Your baby’s first smile, the first time she crawls, her first footsteps, her first words; everything gets stored in the treasure trove of your memories. To make your parenting journey easier and your child’s first year special, this article will help you understand which are the most essential milestones of child development and how parents can track these important factors of growth and development.
Paediatricians, psychologists and medical experts have identified five key domains of the milestones in newborns. These can be categorised as physical development, cognitive development, social development, emotional development, and language development.
Physical development refers to all the physical aspects of a child's or newborn’s growth and development. For example, the child’s height, weight, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, and five senses Rolling over, crawling, neck control, standing, walking, running, self-feeding, and the like are also part of the physical development in childhood.
The ability of a child to think, explore, find solutions to problems, acquire new knowledge, communicate, and pay attention are all part of a child’s cognitive development.
Social development refers to a child’s ability to form and maintain relationships with her caregivers, extended family members and peers. Their interactions with other people pave the way for building their own identity across relationships and friendships over the next few years of their childhood. Their social skills are remarkably developed during preschool years, where a child has to interact with so many peers of his/her age outside the comfort of their homes.
Emotional development refers to how a child can experience and share his/her feelings and emotions. It also requires an understanding of how others feel around him/her. Social and emotional development often go hand in hand with each other.
Language is the greatest tool of our human existence; it allows us to understand what others want and helps us to clearly express to others what we want. This language is developed very early, as a newborn is constantly exposed to his/her mother tongue. In fact, researchers have evidence to support that language development begins in utero, where a child inside the womb can constantly hear the mother’s voice and the voices of people around the mother.
Every child develops at his/her own unique pace; some children walk early, some may talk early, and some may reach these milestones much after their first birthdays. Several important factors such as genetics and environment play key roles in determining how the child is growing and at what rate the child is developing. But, how do we understand whether these developmental rates are “normal” or concern-worthy?
This is where developmental milestones are important. When a child achieves a developmental milestone, this can be compared to other children of the same age. It is essential for parents and paediatricians to take note of these milestones. The knowledge of these milestones helps you graph your own child’s development against the typical development of children in the same age group. A child who may reach his/her milestones earlier than those of his/her peers may be considered advanced, whereas a child who achieves his/her developmental milestones later than the typical age may be considered delayed. This recognition is crucial because it allows parents to seek medical advice and work towards assisting a delayed child to reach age-appropriate milestones of child development.
Furthermore, a child’s first year is fundamental and foundational to his/her growth and development. The milestones of a newborn can pave the way for numerous other stages of development later as a toddler, school-going child, adolescent and adult. Here are some of the most important milestones of newborns and children before their first birthday (source: UNICEF Parenting):
At 2 months of age, your infant should be showing signs of smiling at others, self-soothing by hand sucking and making eye contact with parents. She will also be making cooing noises and will begin to respond to sounds by turning towards them. She will also begin paying attention to people and objects and will also show fussiness. With respect to the physical development at 2 months, the baby will start to lift her head during tummy time and will be able to move her arms and legs.
At 4 months of age, your baby will like to play with you, and will smile more spontaneously. She may also try to imitate your facial expressions and physical movements. Her communication will be clearer as her cries will indicate different needs (hunger, discomfort, exhaustion) and she will also begin to babble. The child will now be able to reach for toys with one hand and will also develop hand-eye coordination. Your 4-month-old baby will now also be able to hold her head up without support, push up to her elbows, roll over and even shake the toy in her hand.
When your baby turns 6 months old, she may start to mimic sounds by babbling and will become more expressive with her emotions. She will develop a sense of differentiation between strangers and people she knows. Your baby will be able to start crawling and will also sit without support.
By 9 months, your baby begins to stand with support and soon learns to stand without support also. She becomes very curious about movement and tries to move by holding onto furniture around. She will start to develop fear or anxiety of strangers and will express her feelings clearly. She can now communicate by pointing and bringing your attention to objects and people. She starts comprehending language better and may start using one or two simple words.
Your baby’s first birthday is a remarkable turning point; the infancy stage of development is now coming to a close and your baby is now a toddler. You will be able to observe bigger language milestones, physical development and cognitive development as well. Emotionally, the child experiences separation anxiety when a parent leaves her or stranger anxiety when she is around new people. She has her preferences and favorites; toys, books, blankets etc. She may now say basic words like “mama”, “papa” “dada” “yes” “no” and will respond to your simple questions or requests. She will want to imitate your words and her babbling will start to make more linguistic sense as it converts to speech. She will also begin to wave to say “hi” or “bye”.
Your toddler’s brain development is also rapid by her first birthday; she can find objects that are hidden, can follow directions, can put things into a box or take them out and can imitate your actions and movements too. Her physical development is also noteworthy, as she may start to take her first independent steps without support or while holding furniture.
If you observe any of the following by your child’s first birthday, you should discuss your concern with your paediatrician:
- The child does not respond to loud noises.
- The child does not smile at people.
- The child does not latch properly.
- The child is unable to hold his/her head up.
- The child is not moving one or both of his/her eyes in any direction.
- The child is not making cooing/babbling sounds or forming words.
- The child is not attempting to grab objects near her.
- The child is not responding to his/her name.
- The child is not recognising her family.
- The child is not looking at the objects you are pointing to.
While the aforementioned points may be red flags in your child’s development, it is important to remember that with the right guidance from a medical professional, your child’s delay in developmental milestones can be remedied. It is not unusual for some children to catch up after their first birthdays with the right care from parents, where their actions and activities are consciously designed to help the baby grow.
We advise parents to consult developmental milestones charts available online on several parenting websites; this awareness can play a big role in making your expectations more realistic. Recognising what your child is typically expected to do at a certain age will allow you to design your playtime in a way, that creates an opportunity for your child to go to the next step. For example, expressive communication with your child may help her move from babbling to forming her first words. Putting toys on a small table and calling your child to come take them may enable her to crawl/walk towards you by using that table as a support.
Above all, it is crucial to spend quality time with your baby in their first few years, as these years are most crucial for their brain and body development.
Happy parenting 😊