You know the feeling.
The brick in your gut when a fellow parent beams that her independently sitting baby is 5 months old, just as you catch your wobbly 7 month old before she topples over.
The throat tightening when see proof of your best friend's baby's first steps on Facebook as your same-aged kiddo is just beginning to crawl.
It feels as though we can't help but compare our babies' milestones, but is it valuable? And should we worry if our babies aren’t exactly by-the-book in their milestones? Hands down, the most common question I receive from parents is, "My baby isn't ____ yet, should I be worried?" And I also hear from many twin parents who struggle with comparing the different developmental paces of their two.
Here are some things to consider if you find yourself battling worries over your baby's milestones or suffering the consequences of baby comparisons.
Is Your Baby Making Progress?
Most new parents only have the big benchmarks of gross motor milestones - rolling, sitting, crawling and walking - to use as measures of their babies' progress. But as a child development professional, I've seen firsthand how helpful it is to share with parents some of the more subtle developmental stepping stones that lead up to those big "WOW" moments.
By recognizing these "baby steps," you'll able to reassure yourself that your little one is indeed making progress, even if it's at her own rate. And you'll know what to look for next. Most often, when I recommend that a family seek a developmental evaluation for their child, it is because these building blocks aren't being mastered and there is little progress toward milestones.
Here are some of the major "baby steps" toward your baby's milestones to look for. Don't miss the free printable PDF version of these lists at the end of this post!
Who Are You Comparing Your Baby To?
It's nearly impossible to avoid the tendency to compare when you meet other babies and the inevitable "how old is your baby?" question comes up. My pediatric Occupational Therapist advice? It is far more valuable to compare your baby this month to your baby last month (and the months before that) than to compare your baby to your friend's baby.
Reframe The Milestones
We can easily fall into the trap of thinking of a milestone checklist as a final exam - a pass/fail. But it’s not at all - it’s more like a course syllabus! Reframe the way you think about a milestone checklist and let it tell you goals to PLAY TOWARD with your baby.
Baby not babbling consonants at 6 months? Instead of immediately hitting the panic button and asking Dr. Google to serve up worst-case scenarios, what if you just committed to doing more singing and face to face talking and reading with your baby for a few weeks?
Baby not pressing up through extended arms in Tummy Time at 5 months? That’s not an F on a developmental test or a lifelong condition, friends. That’s a new skill to play toward (Need help knowing how to play toward Tummy Time milestones including rolling? I’m here to help!)
Baby not pulling to a stand? Cruising the furniture? Sitting up? Clapping? Scribbling? Putting toys in a container? Saying ‘mama or dada’? Then he’s telling you where to focus your time and energy during playtime.
So When Should I Worry?
Does this mean I don’t think parents should EVER worry about missed milestones? No way. But the vast majority of the inquiries I receive are from parents stressing over an isolated skills that’s on the slow end of normal to emerge.
Times when it is totally appropriate to worry and to push hard for a specialist evaluation or extra support include
-Regression: any pattern of lost skills should be attended to. I don’t mean that your baby clapped one day and then you don’t see him do it again for a few days. Or a baby who rolled over a few times and then stopped. I mean a child who could consistently sit up and now can’t. A child who babbled and made eye contact and now doesn’t. I child who feels like he’s losing strength and/or coordination across multiple areas of development.
-Not progressing: it’s normal that certain areas of development take a “back seat” while baby pushes hard toward others and normal development often comes in bursts. But if you truly feel that your kiddo has stalled out in an area of development and is showing no progress for 6-8 weeks I would seek additional evaluation and support.
-Delays multiple areas of development: a child who is demonstrating delays (not slow end of normal) in multiple areas of development should be evaluated by the appropriate specialist.
-Any Significant Delay: there are ranges of normal for developmental skills and a “wait and see” or “give more time and practice” approach are totally appropriate for those on the slow end of normal for skills. But there is definitely a point when you would consider a skill significantly delayed. Speak to your child’s pediatrician to clarify if your kiddo is on the slow end of the normal range or delayed with a skill.
Talk With A Professional
It's definitely important to discuss any concerns you might have about your baby's development with your child's doctor. Baby development doesn't occur according to a neat little chart with exact months for each milestone. There is a range of "normal" that is often much wider than parents realize.
Your child's physician should be able to help assess whether there's anything to be concerned about, make appropriate referrals if needed and, more often than not, reassure you that your kiddo is on the right track!