But, Davis says, “There are no evidence-based studies associating crawling with reading.”
This point about crawling underscores the fact that you shouldn’t worry about one specific milestone. If your baby is mastering most of them at an appropriate age but is slow to acquire a particular skill, don’t be concerned. That said, most babies do slow down or even stop development in one area, such as language, while they’re mastering skills in another—motor development, for example. “An advance in one system can come at the cost of a regression or standstill in another,” Lester explains.
There are a few red flags, however. Among them are a failure to make consonant sounds, like “ma,” “da” or “ba,” by 8 months or to walk unassisted by 16 months. And by age 1, a baby should be speaking at least two or three real words, like “bye-bye” or “mama,” and should be interacting socially, says Ellen Perrin, M.D., professor of developmental-behavioral pediatrics at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston.
Is faster smarter?
For many parents, it’s not fear that prevails, but pride. While you may declare your baby a genius or a future Olympian if he masters his milestones early, as long as he’s within the normal range, there is no correlation between how far ahead of the pack he is now and how successful he will be later. However, a child who reaches several milestones late, outside of the normal range, is more likely to have problems, Lester says.
Still, experts say there’s no good reason to push a baby to meet his milestones early. Nor is there any evidence that parents can speed things along, anyway. “A milestone is, by definition, something that just happens,” Lester says. “A lot of what goes on is programmed, and I don’t think you can do anything to make it happen faster.” There’s one known exception: If your baby sleeps on his back and you want to encourage him to crawl, place him on his tummy for at least 15 to 30 minutes of supervised playtime every day.
In addition, you certainly can encourage a child’s development by providing a stimulating environment. For instance, talking and reading to your baby may not make him speak earlier, but it may make him more vocal and give him a broader vocabulary when he does begin to talk. “I don’t think expensive developmental gimmicks are worth the money,” Perrin says, “but I do think it’s very useful to read and talk to a child and imitate her sounds. Doing so also teaches the value of reading and social communication.”
Likewise, you can help your baby achieve a new skill when you see he is ready to go for it. Prop him up against pillows when he shows that he likes to sit up, give him more opportunities to stand when he begins doing that, mimic or answer him when he starts to babble. If nothing else, doing this is great for your relationship with your child. “The message,” Lester says, “is to relax and have a good time together.”