What are developmental milestones?
Children learn more during their first 5 years than at any other time of their life. While all babies grow and develop at different rates, tracking how they reach 'milestones' along the way is one method to assess their progress.
Developmental milestones are the essential abilities such as moving, seeing, hearing, communicating and interacting with other people that babies achieve as they begin to engage with the world.
Development usually happens in the same order in most babies and children, but they typically meet different milestones at different ages. Tracking their milestones is a useful guide to whether they are developing as expected.
Child and maternal health nurses and doctors will check whether babies and children are reaching some of the following types of milestone:
- physical: these milestones include large body movements, such as sitting and walking, and small body movements like controlling their hands, eating and sleeping, 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, whether they are happy or not
- 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. But 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 and family 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 probably only be a temporary delay. Some signs your baby may not be developing normally include:
- they don't seem to hear or see properly (they don't look at you, follow you with their eyes or respond to sounds)
- they are still holding their fingers in a tight fist at 3 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 at about 4 months
- they aren't reaching for objects by 6 months
- they don't sit well by 10 months
- they aren't babbling or using sounds by 10 months
- they don't want to stand up by 12 months
- they don't seem to understand anything you say by 18 months
- they don't seem interested in the world around them
If you are worried about your baby's progress and development, it's worth discussing it with your doctor or maternal health nurse. They will be able to answer your questions.
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Last reviewed: April 2021