Oct 18, 2019, 12:52:33 PM CDT Mar 17, 2023, 4:43:36 PM CDT

Developmental milestones in babies

Encourage infants' development at their own pace

Parents holding their baby Parents holding their baby

Babies grow and develop fast. In just a matter of months, they gain a huge number of motor, language and social skills – from holding up their heads to rolling over or walking, to babbling their first words.

As a parent, it is important for you to be mindful of these milestones to ensure your baby develops as they should. However, it's also important to know that no two babies are alike, and each develops at their own pace. For example, babies who are born prematurely or who have medical complications that can interfere with development may not follow a typical timeline for completing milestones.

If your child isn't hitting major developmental stages, "early intervention is key," says Kristine Tolentino-Plata, MS, Child Development Specialist in the Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine at UT Southwestern practicing at Children's Health℠. "The earlier we catch a delay, the more likely the child will catch up."

See typical baby development milestones and the best ways to encourage your baby's development.

Baby development month-by-month

Each month, your infant will hit dozens of small and big developmental milestones, including:

2-month milestones

  • Coos and gurgles
  • Looks at faces
  • Can hold head up

4-month milestones

  • Smiles at people and sometimes copies expressions
  • Babbles and imitates sounds
  • Can hold and reach for toys
  • Recognizes people

6-month milestones

  • Likes to play with others and reacts to others' emotions
  • Makes vowel sounds and a few consonant sounds
  • Responds to their name
  • Looks around and is curious
  • Rolls over and can sit with support

9-month milestones

  • Prefers certain adults and may not like strangers
  • Points and copies gestures
  • Can move items from hand to hand
  • Sits without support
  • Crawling and can stand with support

12-month milestones

  • Plays simple games like peek-a-boo and patty cake
  • Has favorite things and people
  • Responds to easy requests
  • Waves hello and goodbye
  • Tries to say words you say
  • May be able to stand alone and take a few steps
  • Follows easy directions
  • Bangs or throws toys

18-month milestones

  • Plays simple pretend games
  • May throw tantrums
  • Can say several single words, such as "no"
  • Knows the names of many simple objects
  • Walks and may be able to run or take stairs

How to encourage your baby's development

Most infants don't require a lot of specific toys or activities to develop. They just need time and attention from their parents and other loved ones. To encourage infant development, focus on activities that encourage bonding and time together, such as:

"I always tell parents they are the best toys a child can have," says Tolentino-Plata. "Skin-to-skin contact, eye contact, talking to them – any parent-child interaction – is very important beginning at a very young age."

If you do want to get toys, Tolentino-Plata recommends colorful toys that are simple to manipulate. She also recommends parents avoid screen time completely for babies.

"It doesn't matter if it is educational or not," she says. "We want parent-child interaction or another human being that can give them feedback. Tablets, iPads and electronics should be avoided for infant development."

What to do if your baby misses a milestone

Development has such a large spectrum; you can't look at just one milestone to determine if your child has a delay. Some babies may take longer to reach a milestone or skip one entirely. But if you are concerned, talk to your pediatrician.

"Parents are the expert on their kids," says Tolentino-Plata. "If you notice something, talk with your pediatrician about it. Let them know it is something you are concerned about so it can be monitored."

Tolentino-Plata says child development specialists can use formal developmental assessment tools to determine if a child has a delay and recommend activities or therapies to help. Early intervention with physical therapy, occupational therapy or speech therapy can help your child catch up before they even enter kindergarten.

"Time is very important at such a young age," says Tolentino-Plata. "Ages 0 to 5 is a time when the majority of the connections in the brain are happening rapidly. With the right help, we can set them up for success in later years."

Share this information

Most babies don’t require a lot of toys or activities to develop. An expert @Childrens shares ways to encourage your baby’s development and typical milestones. Click to tweet.

Learn more

The Neonatal-Perinatal experts at Children's Health provide comprehensive care for a wide variety of neonatal conditions and are dedicated to improving outcomes for the tiniest of patients. Learn more about our top-ranking Neonatology program.

Sign up

Stay current on the health and wellness information that makes a difference to you and your family. Sign up for the Children's Health newsletter and have more expert tips and insights sent directly to your inbox.

bonding, cognitive, development, developmental delay, infant, lifestyle, newborn

Childrens Health