Developmental milestones like sitting, walking and talking are extraordinary moments signaling that your baby is entering a new stage in their growth and development. But that’s not what I want to talk about in this article. I want to spend some time talking about those subtle little milestones that we barely notice emerging until our baby is doing them daily. It’s milestones like smiling, being on their tummies, rolling, crawling and babbling that make a big impact on their long term development. Let’s unpack these 5 developmental milestones and how you can encourage your little one to reach them.
Developmental Milestone #1: Smiling
Smiling is probably one of the most important early milestones, and you will probably catch a glimpse of your little one’s first gummy grin at around 6 weeks of age. Many babies do smile earlier and if you are sure you saw a smile in response to your face or voice from about two weeks on, the chances are you are right. There are also the dreamy ‘milk’ smiles that are not in response to anything but happen a lot in the early days. These are not social smiles but in response to a full tummy and a relaxed state. If your baby is not social smiling at all by 8 weeks of age you may want to mention it to your paediatrician and then monitor their interest in the world and babbling later in the first year.
What can you do to encourage smiling? Catch your baby in the calm alert state, after a good nap and when their tummy is full and then make a funny noise or just smile at them.
Developmental Milestone #2: Tummy time
Spending time on their tummy is hardly something that you would think of as a skill. But it is a position that your baby really needs to tolerate and spend time in, in order to develop other key milestones. Rolling and crawling are both vital milestones that will only develop if your baby is on their tummy frequently in the first six months.
From day one make sure your baby gets to play in the tummy position. This will force them to lift their neck and develop the extensor muscles of their back. If your little one won’t tolerate the tummy position, lie back in a slightly raised position propped against pillows and rest them, on their tummy, on your chest. This will encourage them to raise their head to look at you and if you are not completely horizontal, they won’t have to work so hard to do so.
Developmental Milestone #3: Rolling
Rolling is a critical milestone that emerges in the first six months but exactly when varies hugely between babies. Most babies prefer to roll back to tummy first but this will also vary between different children. When and which way your baby rolls is not important, it is just important that they do. Rolling takes a lot of strength from core tummy muscles and it’s these muscles that are vital for crawling next and also for general postural control in your toddler.
Developmental Milestone #4: Crawling
Crawling is considered the controversial milestone. The fact is that some babies just don’t crawl. It is the one milestone that is most commonly skipped. Babies who don’t crawl go from lying and rolling to sitting and then walking. The controversy is that some health care professionals advise parents not to worry as it’s an optional milestone. The truth is that it is a very important milestone for the development of shoulder muscles, coordination and exploring the world before walking. Babies who don’t crawl may not do so because they don’t like the feel of the floor texture due to tactile defensiveness in their hands. Others don’t crawl because they did not spend enough time on their tummies to develop their back muscles.
To encourage crawling, put your baby on their tummy on the floor from early on. If by 9 months your baby is not crawling, try to help them by placing a towel rolled into a ‘strap’ under their tummy with each end sticking out on the left and right. Then lift both sides just enough to support them into the crawling position.
Developmental Milestone #5: Babbling
Another important milestone and one that is directly related to exposure is babbling. The more a baby is spoken to, the more they will say and the sooner they will speak. Speak to your baby, copy their early sounds and label everything they see for them. Encourage them to babble by taking turns. If they say: ”babababa,” repeat it to them or even show them a dolly and say “bababa.”
When considering your baby’s milestones remember this:
- Developmental milestones are only guidelines. All babies are different and will develop at a different pace. If only one milestone is delayed and your baby is otherwise doing well, do not be too concerned.
- Do not be tempted to compare your baby – it will stress you out. And trust me as a mother of 3 – development often evens out at 18 months!
- Spend time on the floor with your baby, talking, smiling and giving them tummy time.
For more daily tips on how to encourage your baby’s milestone development, download Parent Sense – the all-in-one app that takes the guesswork out of parenting in the first year year.