Growing milestones: Does it matter if your baby misses them?

Learn about the factors that influence your baby’s development.

You’ve heard it all before. Children develop in their own time and developmental milestones are just a guide. But it’s hard not to worry when you’re surrounded by friends whose babies reach every milestone on time.

If those “Is your baby still not doing…" comments are starting to get to you, read on to learn more about the different factors that influence your baby’s growth. Understanding them will give you a clearer idea whether your baby is on their own schedule or a chat with your doctor is necessary.

Temperament

Your baby’s temperament is the strongest influence on their development. If your baby is persistent, stubborn or easily frustrated, they are more likely to learn new skills quicker than other babies. They’ll practice rolling over until they can do it and they’ll abandon crawling for walking so they can get to their favourite toy more efficiently. A sweet-natured, placid baby, on the other hand, is likely to be content with crawling and will take their time to stand up, cruise or walk.

Environment

Is your baby surrounded by doting aunts and uncles who hold him all the time? Don’t be surprised if your coddled baby takes longer to roll over, sit up or crawl.

Do your baby’s older siblings do everything for them, like fetch toys before they reach for it or let mum or dad know someone has a stinky diaper before they cry? It’s no wonder then that your baby takes longer to verbalise what they want, since everyone around them is so good at anticipating their needs.

Helpful hint #1: Babies from multiple births tend to be late talkers because they talk to each other in their own special language.

Muscle Tone

Some babies have low muscle tone, which makes it harder for them to master gross motor skills such as rolling over, sitting up, crawling and walking. They might take more time to get there initially but most children with low muscle tone outgrow it in a few years and get back on par with their peers. If your baby is a bit floppy when you pick them up and doesn’t move as quickly, they probably have low muscle tone. You can try these exercises to help their muscle development.

Personal Interests

If your baby isn’t that skilled with a crayon, it might be because they’re more interested in interacting through movement and spend more time running and jumping. In the same way, a very vocal baby might be a bit behind with walking. Your baby’s development won’t necessarily be even. Instead, they’ll put all their effort into mastering the one skill that they’re most interested in first and leave the others for later.

What this means

There is actually a large window for your baby to master each milestone and you don’t have to worry if your baby takes a longer time to reach some or all of them. As long as they’re making slow and steady progress and working on developing each skill, they’ll get there in their own time. What’s more, most children catch up to their peers by age 3 so it really doesn’t matter whether you’ve got an early bird or a late bloomer.

Helpful hint #2: Premature babies have some catching up to do, so their chronological age isn’t a good gauge for when they should be meeting their milestones. Use an adjusted age that takes into account their prematurity.

When to seek help

There are some developmental delays that could mean your baby needs speech, occupational or physical therapy. Speak to you doctor if your baby is:

  • 5 months and hasn't rolled over
  • 8 months and can't sit up on their own
  • 12 months and isn't interested in self-feeding or scribbling with a crayon
  • 18 months and isn't walking
  • 2 years and hasn't uttered his first word.

You should also pay special attention if your child favours one side e.g. only reaching with the right hand or dragging the left leg, or if they lose skills they’ve already learnt.