Development is the term used to describe the physical changes in your baby, as well as his amazing ability to learn the skills he needs for life. As your baby grows, these skills and abilities become more and more complex.
Baby development: how it happens
Baby development in the first 12 months is amazing because so much happens. Most healthy babies develop new skills in a completely natural and continually surprising way.
Babies all grow and develop at very different rates – and they don’t always do what the parenting textbooks say they’ll be doing!
If your baby is eating and sleeping well and seems mostly happy when she’s awake, she’s likely to be developing well. You know your baby best – if you think she’s OK, she probably is. But if you’re worried about her development, trust your instincts and talk to your GP or child and family health nurse.
Baby developmental milestones
Developmental achievements are called ‘milestones’. Growth and development milestones are a useful guide for tracking your baby’s development, but they aren’t something to get too worried about.
Developmental milestones are grouped under headings according to the parts of the body they refer to:
Large body movements (gross motor skills) involve the coordination and control of large muscles, and skills like walking, sitting and running.
Small body movements (fine motor skills) involve the coordination and control of small muscles, and skills like holding a rattle, picking up crumbs and scribbling with a pencil.
Vision is the ability to see near and far, and to understand what you see.
Hearing is the ability to hear, listen to and interpret sounds.
Speech is the ability to produce sounds that form words.
Social behaviour and understanding is the ability to learn and interact with others. It includes skills for play and connecting and communicating.
Some babies have delays in their development. These delays might be short term or permanent, but permanent delays don’t happen often.
Premature birth and illness are two things that might cause temporary delays. Some disabilities can cause permanent delay.
Babies’ development can also suffer because of their environment. For example, if babies don’t have warm relationships with their primary carers, if they don’t have predictable routines that help them feel safe, or if their parents abuse alcohol and other drugs or are involved in family violence, these factors can affect baby development.
Video Developmental delay in babies
This short video has information about recognising and catching development delay in newborns and babies. If you’re worried about your baby’s development or you suspect a delay in development, you should talk with your GP or child and family health nurse. There’s no need to feel embarrassed if you're worried about your baby.
Things to watch out for in baby development
If your baby seems slow to do some things compared to other babies, it’s probably OK – unless you’re seeing delays in a few different areas over several months.
Try to resist the temptation to compare your baby with others, because this can lead you to worry when you don’t need to. Comparing your baby to others can even have a negative impact on your relationship with your child.
As a general guide, though, seek help if you notice any of the following signs in your baby.
- doesn’t seem to see things or has white or cloudy pupils, or there’s something about his eyes that bothers you
- doesn’t move or use both arms and/or legs
- can’t hold his head up by the time he’s reached 3-4 months
- isn’t sitting well by 10 months
- doesn’t want to bear his own weight by 12 months.
- doesn’t consistently respond to sounds
- is persistently crying for more than three hours a day, especially after 3-4 months (it’s normal for babies to cry for about two hours a day, with crying peaking at 6-8 weeks)
- has an unusual cry – for example, a high-pitched squeal.
Social, emotional and communication signs
- doesn’t look at you
- isn’t interested in what’s going on around her
- isn’t babbling by 9 months or is using fewer than 5 words at 18 months.
Video Development issues to watch out for
Babies do things at their own pace, particularly when it comes to walking and crawling. They develop in the same order, but at different rates.
But there are some key signs that a baby might be experiencing a delay in development, as this video explains.
If you’re ever concerned about your baby’s development, or if you notice any of the signs explained in this video, talk to a professional. You know your baby better than anyone, and you’ll have a good feel for what’s happening.