Your child's milestones
1 To 3 Months
Touch: It helps a baby grow & prosper.
"All humans, especially babies, thrive on the power of touch," says Ari Brown, M.D., a pediatrician in Austin, Texas, and author of Baby 411 (Windsor Peak Press). "Touch is comforting and soothing: Just look at how babies can sleep on a parent's chest with no problem, yet cry as soon as you put them into a crib." Touch even promotes physical growth and development, so much so that premature infants are often given "kangaroo care"—skin-to-skin contact that has been shown to help them sleep longer and breastfeed better.
The reason touch is so comforting is that it simulates the sheltered, warm environment babies were immersed in for nine months. According to Brown, an infant deprived of human touch and interaction may later have little expectation of being held or stimulated and will act withdrawn and reserved. "It's hard to say how much you should hold your baby," she remarks, "yet, what I can say is that you can't spoil a newborn by touching or holding him too much."
Babies who don't want to be touched warrant an evaluation by a pediatrician. "It doesn't mean that every baby who doesn't like to be touched has a disorder," Brown says. "But autistic children, for example, may not be soothed by touching and, in fact, may be bothered by it."
4 To 8 Months
Small Talk: Making sounds & babbling usher in speech.
Your baby has no doubt been "vocal" from day 1, but until approximately 4 to 6 months her sounds have mostly consisted of crying and laughing. At about 3 months, babies usually
realize there is a cause-and-effect relationship between their cries and their parents or caregivers doing something for them and will sometimes cry for attention, notes Tanya Remar Altmann, M.D., editor in chief of the American Academy of Pediatrics' The Wonder Years (Bantam Books) and a pediatrician in Westlake Village, Calif.
"Then, starting at 3 to 4 months, babies will make squealing and growling sounds and blow raspberries, usually when they are happy," Altmann says. "At about 6 months they begin making sounds parents recognize, [consonants] like m-m-m-m, d-d-d-d-d—early babbling."
At around 6 months or so, babies begin to exhibit other types of communication as well. "They will wave their arms and legs when they laugh and smile, and start clapping when they get excited. Along with the movements, they coo and make other vowel sounds when they are content," Altmann adds.
To help your baby develop the skills she'll need for actual speech, read and talk to her starting from birth. "Babies often make sounds in response to parents' voices," says Altmann.
9 To 12 Months
Getting Vertical: She stands & cruises & walks, oh my!
At about 9 months, your baby will probably be able to pull herself up to standing. For a while she will rely on you to support her, and then—usually by 15 months—she will start standing and moving around on her own steam, "cruising" from one piece of furniture to another.
"A coffee table with rounded edges or a couch is at the perfect height for a budding walker to hold on and pull up to standing or to stay balanced while cruising around," says Ari Brown, M.D. Placing a toy or standing just out of a baby's reach will encourage her to let go and move to the toy or to you. On average, most babies walk unassisted at around a year, though the normal range is anywhere from 9to 15 months. If you have wood floors, you may want to invest in a rug to prevent or cushion falls.
If you've heard that helping your baby walk before she is ready will make her bowlegged, Brown says it's an old wives' tale. "There is nothing wrong with encouraging your baby to cruise or walk, except that she may not be ready for it," Brown explains. "You can't control your baby's ability to accomplish a milestone. That is something she has to do on her own."
1 To 2 Years
Busy Hands: Fine motor skills get fine-tuned.
Fine motor skills—finger and hand movements—take lots of practice. Starting around 9 months, a baby will "palm" pieces of food and shove them into his mouth. When he's between 9 and 10 months, his pincer grasp—the ability to pick up a small object using the thumb and index finger—gets more precise. At 12 months he should be able to pick up something like a Cheerio and put it neatly into his mouth and to grab and drink from a sippy cup. Around the same age, babies also begin putting blocks into a pail and throwing things.
"By around 18 months, babies will start to scribble, but at this age they really don't know the difference between a piece of paper and the floor or wall," says Tanya Remar Altmann, M.D. "They're also able to build a three-block tower." Between 1 1/2 and 2 years, toddlers learn to put large puzzle pieces in place and to turn one page of a baby book at a time.
The good news is that your child doesn't need any special toys to develop these skills. "As long as parents offer a variety of activities to stimulate their baby, he will be fine," Altmann says. "A Tupperware bowl and wooden spoon will do."