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Developmental milestones in babies and children

6-minute read

Key facts

  • Developmental milestones are a set of age-specific tasks that most children can do at a certain age range.
  • They include important skills that babies learn, like moving, talking, playing, and interacting with other people.
  • All babies grow and develop at different rates, tracking their milestones is a useful guide to see if they are developing as expected.
  • If you have any concerns about your child’s development, talk to your doctor or child health nurse.

What are developmental milestones?

Developmental milestones are a set of age-specific tasks that most children can do at a certain age range. While all babies grow and develop at different rates, tracking how they reach milestones, is one way to measure their progress.

Your child will learn more during their first 5 years than at any other time of their life. Development usually happens in the same order in most babies and children, but they can meet different milestones at different ages. Tracking your child’s milestones is a useful guide to whether they are developing as expected.

What do developmental milestones measure?

Developmental milestones measure how you child gains new functional skills and tasks. Child and maternal health nurses and doctors will check if babies and children are reaching some of the following types of milestones:

  • physical: include large body movements, such as sitting and walking, and small body movements like controlling their hands, eating, and sleep habits, reflexes, vision and other physical abilities
  • social: how they react to other people around them, including through play and communication
  • emotional: how well they are bonding with other people, if they are happy or not, having temper tantrums or separation anxiety
  • cognitive: their learning, how their senses are working, and how they are engaging with the world
  • language: these include hearing, making sounds and understanding sounds

When should my child meet developmental milestones?

Babies grow and develop very quickly, especially in their first 12 months.

All babies reach their milestones at different times. If a baby is missing their milestones altogether, it could be a sign that their development is delayed. That's why having your baby's milestones regularly checked by your doctor or by a child health nurse is a good idea.

What problems can happen with development?

Even if your baby is slow to reach a certain milestone, it will usually only be a temporary delay.

Here are some signs your baby may have problems with development, and that you should speak with your doctor or maternal nurse:

From birth to 4 months

  • They aren't moving both arms or both legs.
  • They can't hold their head up by 3 to 4 months.
  • They are unhappy or unsettled most of the time.
  • They don't seem to hear or see properly (they don't look at you, follow you with their eyes or respond to sounds).

From 4 to 8 months

  • They are not learning to make sounds or copy sounds.
  • They aren't reaching for objects.
  • They are not learning to roll when they are playing on the floor.
  • They don’t recognise familiar people and stretch their arms to be picked up.

From 8 to 12 months

  • They don't sit without support by 10 months.
  • They aren't babbling or using sounds by 10 months.
  • They don't stand by pulling themself up using furniture.

From 12 to 18 months

  • They don't use words to communicate.
  • They don't seem interested in the world around them.

If you are worried about your baby's progress or development, speak with your doctor or child health nurse.

Resources and support

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436. Video call service allows you to speak face-to-face with a maternal child health nurse. This is a free service, available from 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week (including public holidays).

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

You can find further information about your child’s development on the links below:

Check out other Australian government resources on developmental milestones for parents and carers of for infants, toddlers and preschoolers (birth to 5 years).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2023


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