Baby Steps

The developmental milestones that mark your child's first year of life.


Some of the biggest thrills for parents come in their baby's first year of life: the first smile, first "ba ba," first steps. But after reading the baby books, most new parents know what should be happening when, and many are disappointed, or begin to worry, if their children seem to be behind the curve. Such anxiety generally is misplaced. "Milestones are important because they let you know that a child is following normal developmental lines," says Barry Lester, Ph.D., director of the Infant Development Center at Women & Infants Hospital in Providence, R.I. "But milestones are averages, and they have a huge range. It takes a very big departure from the average to be considered abnormal."

Many factors, including genetics, influence when a child reaches a milestone. For example, a heavier baby may be slower to crawl, and a child growing up in a bilingual home or with a precocious older sibling may talk later than average (she can't get a word in). Moreover, development can be uneven because babies don't put the same energy into all areas at the same time. So, a baby who talks early may be slower to master physical feats.

Rather than focusing on when milestones occur or comparing your baby with others, watch for progression. If a child is moving from one stage to the next, she's probably OK, says Beth Ellen Davis, M.D., M.P.H., a pediatric-development specialist at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash. And as long as a baby is in the normal range, there's no association between when she reaches milestones and her intelligence or physical process later. That said, here's a rough timetable to let you know what to expect in the first year.

1-3 Months

The Social Ladder: Even in the first week of life, your newborn can recognize your voice and focus on your face, turning toward you when he hears you. In the second month, he flashes his first intentional smile; earlier smiles are neither social nor caused by gas but a way of reflexively exercising the facial muscles, says Anouk Amzel, M.D., an assistant professor in clinical pediatrics at Children's Hospital of New York at Columbia University Medical Center.

The Gift of Gab: The first sounds are reflexive, like coughs, grunts and sneezes. At about 3 months, a baby starts to make vowel sounds, such as "ooh" (aka cooing). He listens intently and can turn his head in the direction of voices other than mom's, which shows awareness of sound—an important aspect of speech development, says Froma P. Roth, Ph.D., a professor in the hearing and speech sciences department at the University of Maryland.

Physical Feats: By 2 months, movements become more voluntary, less jerky, and the baby gains control of his neck. He also starts batting and kicking at toys. This shows that he desires something he sees but can't yet grasp it, Amzel says. By 3 months, he can grasp a rattle that's placed in his hand and bring his fingers into his mouth. He also can lift his head 45 degrees while lying on his tummy and can push his legs down when held standing.

Age-Appropriate Activities: Get very close when talking to your baby, Amzel says. Read him simple books that have pictures of bright objects, animals or faces. Place him on his back under a baby gym so he can kick and bat at hanging toys.

Causes for Concern: At 3 months, he does not smile socially, coo or lift his head 45 degrees.

4-7 Months

The Social Ladder: Your baby laughs, squeals with joy and looks at you when you say her name. She has not yet developed stranger anxiety, so she is very social. She also understands cause and effect; for example, she knows that if she pushes a button on a toy, it will make a noise, light up or spin.

The Gift of Gab: At 4 months, she begins to make trilling, growling and lip-smacking sounds. By 6 or 7 months, she can say consonants, such as t or d, or a consonant-vowel combo like "ta" or "da." By 7 months, she can imitate sounds, like clucking her tongue or saying "uh-oh" or "shh."

Physical Feats: At 4 months, she can roll over from her stomach to her back (rolling in the other direction happens in the next month or two). She can hold her head up when sitting if propped by pillows. At 5 to 6 months, she can bear weight on her legs when held upright and can make purposeful hand movements, such as trying to grasp an object. By 6 months, she can sit up unassisted. She also can put her hands together, grasp an object by raking her fingers across it and move objects from hand to hand.

Age-Appropriate Activities: Put her on her stomach for at least a half-hour a day to build upper-body strength, Amzel suggests. Try propping her up in a sitting position and let her stand on your lap. Provide toys and rattles for her to grasp and shake. Talk to her constantly and imitate her sounds. As you do, Roth says, keep eye contact, and when referring to an object, direct your gaze and hers to it. Begin playing simple sound-gesture games, such as "Where Is Thumbkin?" and "Itsy Bitsy Spider."

Causes for Concern: At 4 months, her head lags behind her body when you pull her up from a lying to a sitting position. At 7 months, she doesn't do any of the following: smile or laugh; roll over or bear weight on her legs; try to produce consonant and vowel sequences; or recognize familiar sounds, such as a ringing telephone or doorbell.

8-12 Months

The Social Ladder: Your baby can wave bye-bye, clap his hands and point to things he wants. Separation anxiety is common because he understands object permanence: You (or an object) still exist even when out of his sight, Amzel explains. He also may display a fear of strangers.

The Gift of Gab: At 9 months, the baby will say consonant-vowel strings ("ba ba" or "da da") or vowel-consonant strings ("ab ab"); these also are known as babbling. He follows simple verbal direction, such as "Get the toy" or "Press the button" when it's accompanied by a gesture. At 10 months, he babbles with intonation; this sounds like talking, Roth says, but there are no real words. At about 12 months, he begins to say things like "baba" for bottle or "wawa" for water.

Physical Feats: By 8 months, he can use his hands separately and pick up objects with his thumb and index finger, which means he can feed himself. He also may be crawling. But many babies, especially those who sleep on their backs, don't crawl until 9 or 10 months, and some go straight from sitting to walking without crawling, Amzel says; this is normal. At 8 or 9 months, he can pull himself up to standing; by 10 or 11 months, he may start "cruising" (walking sideways while holding onto furniture). By 12 months, many babies walk unassisted.

Age-Appropriate Activities: Play more interactive games, such as patty-cake and peekaboo. Spend a lot of time with him talking, labeling objects, reading books and naming pictures on a page. Says Roth: Respond to your baby's jabbering with "Is that so?" or "That's interesting." Provide lots of safe space for crawling and cruising. Causes for Concern: By 12 months, he isn't saying "mama," "dada" or "baba"; doesn't look for a toy as you drop it; or isn't standing up, clapping or waving bye-bye.