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Infant Development Stages + Growth Milestones: What to Expect

As a new parent, you understand how important this early time of infanthood is. Your child’s first year of life is a fun and eventful one. It also often brings up concerns from parents as you watch for your baby to reach milestones throughout the months. 

First off, it’s essential to remember just how much development can vary from child to child. There is a wide range of what is considered “normal” for growth and reaching certain milestones. Your child might hit some milestones “early” and others “late.” Usually, this is nothing to be concerned about.

Let’s review what you can expect to see in your baby at different stages of development throughout the first year. Keep in mind, these are just averages, and some variance from these phases is completely normal—even expected. If you are still concerned, you can always approach your child’s pediatrician with any questions. 

0-3 months

A baby does a lot of growing in those first few months. When you first bring your infant home, they are so tiny and really don’t do much besides eating, sleeping, and pooping. As the weeks move on, your baby will learn to:

  • Recognize and feel comforted by the sound of your voice
  • Focus their eyes on nearby objects and faces. They will also learn to track moving objects or faces with their eyes. By the end of 3 months, your child will recognize their parents’ faces from farther away, and start to recognize other familiar faces, as well. 
  • Smile—at first just to themselves, and then at those faces they love. 
  • Hold up their own head without your support. They will also likely be able to lift their head and chest up off the ground during tummy time. 
  • Make more noises to mimic your talking. He or she will coo at you and start exploring different vowel sounds. 
  • Open and close their hands, bring them to the mouth, and grasp at toys, too. 

4-6 months

Around this stage, many babies start showing more of their little personalities off. Besides those cute smiles and little baby babbles, here’s what you can keep an eye out for these next few months: 

  • Rolling over—usually front to back first, then back to front (but sometimes the other way around).
  • Sitting up with support, such as some pillows, a boppy, a couch, or you.
  • Using hands to grab and play with toys, or grabbing feet and maybe bringing them to their mouth. 
  • Putting weight on their legs when held in a standing position—and maybe they’ll do some bouncing, too!
  • Laughing and more babbling—they’ll start adding some consonants to their repertoire. They may also begin to recognize their own name when you call it. 
  • Showing interest in your food as they prepare to eat their own solid foods. 

7-9 months

Your little one is getting bigger and starting to become quite mobile. But they’re still young enough to want to put everything in their mouth—so if you haven’t yet, now’s a good time to baby-proof your house! Around 7-9 months, you might expect your child to learn how to:

  • Sit up all by themselves and start pulling up to a standing position using furniture and items around the room. 
  • Prepare to crawl. Before achieving a full hands-and-knees crawl, they’ll probably start by scooting, creeping, or their own unique moves to get around.
  • Play little games like hide-and-seek or peek-a-boo. These games demonstrate a child’s mastery of the concept of object permanence. When they understand that an object is permanent, they’ll realize that it doesn’t just disappear when it’s hidden. So, if you hide a ball under a blanket, they’ll want to look under the blanket to find it. 
  • Babble mama or dada. They’ll also begin to recognize familiar words such as “no'' or “milk” or “bottle.” They may start taking notice of various emotions in your voice, as well, and respond with facial expressions.
  • Using hands to point at things they want or are interested in. They’ll start learning the “pincer grasp,” or the skill of picking up small items with her forefinger and thumb. This will help them begin to feed themselves cereal or small bites of food.

10-12 months

During these last few months of that first year, your tiny baby is growing bigger and becoming more independent and toddler-like. Throughout this phase, your child will likely learn: 

  • How to cruise. This is when a baby can pull themselves up to a standing position with support, and walk around the room holding onto furniture or other items. This sets the final stage before full-on walking begins. Sometimes a toddler will actually begin taking those first independent steps within this timeframe, too—though this milestone is typically reached closer to 12 months, and anywhere from 8-18 months is usually considered normal. 
  • Words have meaning. They might start to use a few of their first words during this time. They’ll also enjoy hearing the rhythmic and repetitive words of children’s books—and the pictures will help your baby grasp the meanings of some words. Even if they aren’t speaking yet, they will probably start using hand gestures (or perhaps some sign language, if you teach it) to mean different things, such as waving “bye-bye,” shaking head “no,” or blowing kisses. 
  • To mimic your behaviors. You brush your teeth, they’ll pretend to brush, too. You’ll talk on the phone, they’ll copy the action using a toy. 
  • To manipulate objects in various ways. They’ll notice the loud crash of banging items together. They’ll enjoy taking things out of a container and putting them back in again. And they’ll observe how you’ll pick up a toy when they drop it over and over and over again (a favorite game among babies). 

When Should You Be Concerned?

As mentioned before, there is a wide range of what’s normal, and many children develop healthily, despite being at vastly different rates. These descriptions simply give estimates for what you might expect, because the range of what’s considered healthy is quite wide. 

Babies born prematurely or with health issues may take a little longer to reach milestones than their peers. But keep in mind, it’s usually not so important that your baby hits milestones at certain ages. It’s more about the fact that they are making forward progress, regardless of the pace.

That said, trust your parental instincts. It never hurts to ask your doctor questions or bring up concerns. Be sure to attend all your well-baby check-ups throughout the year so your pediatrician can evaluate your child and determine if there are issues and what to do about them. Early intervention is always best, so the sooner you bring up concerns to be addressed, the better. 

How You Can Encourage Development

Your little one is going to do a lot of learning and growing on their own. But there are a few things you can do to encourage healthy development. 

Be sure to talk to your baby often. Make eye contact when you can. Narrate the different things you do throughout the day. Identify the emotions they experience to lay a foundation for managing them as they get older. Not only does talking support language development, it’s also calming for your child to hear your voice. Reading is another great way to accomplish these goals, as well as singing or playing music

To help your baby progress in gross and fine motor development, offer regular opportunities for new independence. In the younger stages, practice tummy time daily. As they get older, prop them up to encourage sitting, or challenge them to reach a toy a few feet away as they learn to crawl. Toward the end of the year, hold their hands to help foster walking ability. Offer your child toys to reach for and grasp at from a young age to learn fine motor skills, and when they’re ready, allow them to practice the pincer grasp by offering small bits of food so they can feed themselves. 

Keep your baby’s tummy full—whether that means formula feeding, breastfeeding, or a combination of the two. Find the approach that works best for your baby, yourself, and your family’s lifestyle. The actual route you take isn’t so important as the fact that your baby is nourished and cared for (and that you are, too!). 

Cultivate consistency to promote your child’s mental and emotional development. Establish routines for the day, and specifically for sleeping and eating. Spend time outside when you can. Maintain a child-proofed home so that it’s not only safe for your little one, but also decreases your need to constantly say “no” to things.

Finally, squeeze in all the cuddles you can—for your baby’s security and comfort, and to strengthen that special bond between parent and child. Shower them with attention and love, and cherish this phase of life, because it’ll be over before you know it. 

A note from our Chief Medical Advisor, Board-Certified Pediatrician Dr. Lorraine Beraho 

"Ironically, milestones are not necessarily set in stone. Infant developmental stages and growth patterns can vary between children of the same age which can cause great concerns among parents in clinic. Whether your child is progressing by leaps and bounds or at a seemingly glacial pace, it is important to remember that there are variations that can exist between your baby and your friend's baby who are the same age without cause for alarm. Keep in mind that it is important to discuss suspected delayed milestones, regressions in development, or other related concerns with your child's Pediatrician for guidance."