We're first time parents. How do we know when to worry?

Most first time parents take great delight in watching their baby’s development, day by day, week by week, and month by month. (It's not that second time parents don't enjoy watching their babies, it's just that they usually don't have as much time or sense of awe the second time around!)  This month, I'll describe some of the predictable milestones you'll see between 6-12 months and what you should and should NOT worry about along the way.  Of course, your baby might be a little behind or ahead of these milestones, especially if he arrived early.  Unless you're grooming him to be completely average in every way, don't worry if his baby book doesn't match the "usual" rate of development.

Six to eight months:  By now, your baby can roll herself over, although she may have done so earlier.  She is moving her legs and arms to propel herself forward or backward, and she may begin to crawl, using just her arms, or creep-crawl, using arms and legs together.  A quiet baby may be content to stay in one place, and does not need to be encouraged to move more.  She can sit with some support, but can't get to sitting on her own.  Her trunk may bend forward if she is not given enough propping support for her back.  She can lean forward on her hands.  If she sees a small object she can lean towards it and rake it with her hand until it is closer to her.  When she has an object in one hand, she can transfer it to the other, often putting it in her mouth along the way. (These developmental achievements make it especially important for parents to keep small objects out of their baby's reach.)  If an object is placed under a cover, she acts as though it has disappeared.  Your baby now will show a preference for the people who usually care for her over strangers.  She is eager to "talk" to other people, especially children, using vowel sounds and body movements to express herself.  She makes noises such as "rasberries" or gurgles, and likes to create sound by banging.


What to worry about: A baby who is feeding every two to three hours day and night is probably snacking rather than learning to fill up at meals.  Stretching out feedings during the day to every three hours  and then offering baby both breasts or an eight ounce bottle (he doesn’t need to finish!) actually encourages a baby to self regulate and get into a day/night pattern.


What NOT to worry about: If your baby is sleeping well at night and deciding for himself how much to nurse or drink at each feeding, you can ignore his growth chart.  Some babies move to higher or lower growth percentiles than at birth during the second half of their first year.


Nine to eleven months:  Your baby can now sit up with a straight back and can stand with support.  She may be interested in "cruising" by holding onto a table while she walks along its side.  She is likely to be creeping or crawling, although some children bypass this step.  Her grasp is more refined, and she can pick up objects with her thumb and forefinger.  She can poke and prod and manipulate a toy or object, and continues to put things in her mouth as she explores her environment.  She responds to the sound of her own name and words for people in her family, pets, and important items such as bottle, nursing, or a transitional object.  If she sees an object placed under a towel or blanket, she will lift the cover to find it.  She enjoys playing peek-a-boo, patty-cake, and other interactive, repetitive games.  She babbles, using consonant sounds such as "da-da-da" or "ba-ba-ba."


What to worry about: Childproofing AND supervision!  A baby on the move can get in serious trouble fast.  If your baby is smart, he’s always looking for a new experience, and he may find dangers you can’t even imagine.


What NOT to worry about: If your baby starts to cry as if he’s been abandoned forever the moment you leave the room, it’s not because he’s insecure.  He’s at the age now when he notices you are leaving but isn’t quite sure where you are when you are gone.  Every time you leave and return, he practices getting through his anxiety about being separate--yes, that’s why it’s called separation anxiety, and it may go on for couple of months. 


Twelve months:  At the end of babyhood, the sequence of most developmental milestones will be similar among children, but the pace can be quite different.  By now, a baby may have mastered standing, cruising holding on, or even walking--all are normal for her age.  She may have one or two words or none at all.  She may be shy with strangers or eager to meet new people.  A “typical one-year-old” isn’t easy to describe.  What matters now is that your baby continues to develop skills, explore, learn and grow, all in her own way.


What to worry about:  Your own sleep and energy.  A one-year-old  will keep you busier than you have ever been, so it’s time to take even better care of yourself.


What NOT to worry about: Your baby becoming a toddler who expresses his independence by being uncooperative.  Enjoy the close connection you have now and don’t take it personally when he squirms, protests, and learns to say, “No!” It’s all part of growing up.