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.
Development is progressive, with each change building on earlier ones. And developmental changes generally happen in the same order in most children, but they might happen 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. But you know your baby best. If you feel that something isn’t quite right, it’s important to talk to your child and family health nurse or GP. It’s also OK to get another opinion if you’re still concerned.
Baby developmental milestones
Developmental ‘milestones’ are behavioural or physical signs of a baby’s development. Developmental 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 include skills like walking, sitting and running.
- Small body movements (fine motor skills) involve the coordination and control of small muscles and include 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, connecting and communicating.
Some babies have delays in their development, but it’s hard to predict whether these delays are short term or permanent.
Some of the things that might cause developmental delay include premature birth and other illnesses or injures that affect brain development.
Developmental delay in babies can also be caused by environmental factors. For example, baby development can be affected if babies don’t have warm, responsive and reliable relationships with those around them, if their parents have mental health problems, or if their parents abuse alcohol and other drugs or are involved in family violence.
Babies have a better chance of overcoming developmental delay when they get the right support early.
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, it’s best to seek advice early from a health professional. See your child and family health nurse, GP or paediatrician.
Here are signs that your baby might need support for their development.
- doesn’t seem to see things or hear properly
- can’t use both arms and/or legs
- can’t hold their head up by the time they’re 3-4 months old
- can’t sit up on their own by 9 months
- can’t stand up, even with support, by 12 months.
- has an unusual cry – for example, a high-pitched squeal
- is persistently crying for more than 3 hours in total a day, especially after 3-4 months.
Note that it’s normal for babies to cry for about 2 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 5 words at 18 months.