You all know her—the perfectionist mom. She brags incessantly about her baby walking early, talking early, sticking to an all-organic diet and studying three languages. New parents often find it hard to avoid comparing their baby to others, especially when they're worried about whether their little one is on track with her peers.
Baby developmental milestones are meant as a guide to gauge your little one's overall health and wellness, but they can fast become a way for parents to size up each other's skills. Instead of trying to keep up with the Joneses, get a handle on how milestones affect your baby and how to interpret the guidelines for her needs and individuality.
- Assess your baby's specific needs. The March of Dimes points out that if your baby was premature or spent time in the NICU, you can't expect her to follow the same milestone timeline as a baby who was full-term and without complications. Your pediatrician will likely use your baby's "adjusted age"—that is, use her age from her due date—to gauge her progress and ability to reach developmental milestones. Consider doing the same so you don't get stressed out when a baby at play group seems to be leaps and bounds ahead of your own.
- Know when to worry—and when to relax. Jennifer Little, Ph.D and Doctor of Educational Psychology warns about the difference between serious and slight milestone issues: "If a child is not responding to auditory stimuli within weeks of birth, be immediately concerned (hearing loss/deafness); the same for visual stimuli (blindness). If a child is a month or two behind others, not to worry because the child may have a 'spurt' that compensates." Stressing about hearing and sight is justifiable, but don't worry that your baby isn't pulling herself into a standing position, because she'll probably catch up to other kids in a month or two.
- Consider your child's temperament. What might seem like delayed development might actually be part of your child's personality. For instance, if your baby isn't walking by 12 to 14 months, she may just be content with crawling. Clinical psychologist Julia Simens says, "If parents approach things from a strength-based view, their child will be seen as being successful and this pride and comfort makes the child feel more comfortable."
- Don't play comparison games. Avoid going toe-to-toe with a competitive parent. Most children even out by the time they reach grade school, so it's counterproductive to compare the milestones of babies who haven't even learned to walk or talk. If a parent starts boasting about her baby's abilities, let her know you only discuss milestones with your pediatrician.
- Talk to your doc. When in doubt, schedule a check-up with your baby's pediatrician. He—not the know-it-all mom at the playground—can accurately measure these milestones and check for warning signs. Create a list of questions or concerns you have about possible delays, and bring your list with you to the doctor's office. He'll appreciate you coming prepared, and can let you know if your concerns are justified.
- Educate yourself. While milestones aren't hard and fast rules for your baby's health, they do act as a good overall indicator of development and possible problems. Researching how average babies develop will give you insight into where your baby is developmentally.
- 1 to 3 months: Your baby should be working on holding her head steady and track moving objects. Place her, tummy down, on a blanket and roll colorful balls for her to follow. Remember, your baby shouldn't sleep on her stomach, so always put her on her back to sleep, even if she shows good neck control.
- 4 to 5 months: It's time for your little one to start rolling over and reach out to grab objects. Try putting a few toys just out of your baby's reach to see if she rolls to grab them.
- 6 to 7 months: She's ready to begin attempting to sit up unassisted, and will turn toward sounds, such as you calling her name. Sit on the floor and prop her up against your legs so she sees the world with her new view—and is more motivated to try sitting up on her own.
- 7 to 9 months: Your baby should start scooting her body to move around a room. She'll probably "army crawl" until she understands the process of crawling on her hands and knees. Place toys around the room to encourage movement, but make sure that your house is baby-proofed!
- 10 to 12 months: Most babies are crawling expertly at this point and some are even walking by their first birthday. Stand your baby and help her walk as you hold her hands. This helps to strengthen her leg muscles in preparation for walking.
While baby developmental milestones can help you gauge your child's growth, they don't paint an entirely accurate picture for talents, personality, strengths and individual needs. Skip spending time with people who constantly compare their babies to yours, and surround yourself with supportive friends and family instead. Parenting is hard enough—don't add milestone envy to the list of things that stress you out.