Baby development: how it happens
Baby development in the first 12 months is amazing. Through warm and responsive interactions with you and other caregivers, as well as play, babies learn to communicate, think, move, express emotions and much more.
In general, development happens in the same order in most children, but skills might develop at different ages or times. For example, children usually learn to stand, and then they learn to walk. But this development can happen any time between 8 and 18 months.
If you’re wondering whether your baby’s development is on track, just remember that development happens over time. Differences among babies are usually nothing to worry about.
Baby developmental milestones
Developmental achievements are called ‘milestones’. Growth and development milestones are a useful guide for tracking your baby’s development.
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 and picking up crumbs.
- Vision is the ability to see near and far, and to understand what you see.
- Hearing is the ability to hear, listen to and understand sounds.
- Speech and language is the ability to make and understand 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, but it’s hard to predict whether these delays are short term or permanent. Permanent delays don’t happen often.
Premature birth or other illness and injury that affect brain development are some of the things that might cause developmental delays.
Babies’ development can also suffer because of their environment. For example, baby development can be affected if babies don’t have warm, responsive and reliable relationships with those around them, or if their parents abuse alcohol and other drugs or are involved in family violence.
When to seek help for baby development
If you’re seeing delays in a few different areas or if your baby shows signs of losing skills over several months, seek advice from a health professional. See your child and family health nurse, GP or paediatrician.
Here are some signs to look out for.
- doesn’t seem to see things or hear properly
- doesn’t move or use both arms and/or legs
- can’t hold their head up by the time they’re 3-4 months old
- isn’t sitting well by 10 months
- doesn’t want to stand up, even with support, by 12 months.
- has an unusual cry – for example, a high-pitched squeal
- is persistently crying for more than three hours in total a day, especially after 3-4 months.
Note that it’s normal for babies to cry for about two hours in total a day, with crying peaking at 6-8 weeks.
Social, emotional and communication signs
- doesn’t look at you
- isn’t interested in what’s going on around them
- doesn’t consistently respond to sounds
- isn’t babbling by 9 months or is using fewer than five words at 18 months.