Baby’s first year is a time of rapid development and is the fastest they will ever grow! Babies arrive in the world completely helpless and dependent on their parents to tend to their every need. Over the first year they grow at an incredible rate as they start their long journey towards independence. By the end of their first year babies will have roughly tripled their birth weight and will have stretched to be about one and a half times longer than they were at birth. With babies growing at such an astounding rate each month brings new and exciting developments, which are magical for parents to witness.
There’s no such thing as a textbook baby
There are so many milestones your baby will meet in the first year but it’s important to remember that every baby develops at their own pace. You can read baby books and feel you have a clear idea of when your baby should be doing certain things, but it’s often the case that each baby works at a slightly different timescale. In fact there is quite a wide window for when it is normal for babies to reach each developmental stage and often they are so busy mastering one skill, that another is delayed. So, keeping in mind that there can be variations, here are some of the major and most magical milestones you will witness as your baby grows and develops over the first year.
1-2 months old
The first time your baby looks at you and breaks into a gummy grin will be one of the most magical and rewarding moments you share. Hopefully many more smiles will follow afterwards! Most babies treat their parents to their first smile between 6 and 8 weeks of age. Some babies smile earlier, often in their sleep or when they are passing wind but a deliberate responsive (or social) smile often happens at about 7 weeks old.
3-4 months old
Baby smiles can melt your heart but there’s nothing better than hearing your baby’s first laugh. It will most likely happen when they are about 3 or 4 months old. When you hear it you’ll probably laugh right back which babies love even more. Babies can also laugh in their sleep. You might hear chuckles over the baby monitor from as early as 6 months. We wonder what they are dreaming about that tickles them so much. Happy days.
Cooing and babbling
Babies start to make cooing sounds (such as ah-ah-ah or oh-oh-oh) from around 3 months of age. It’s their way of feeling out different sounds as a first step towards talking. After practicing these initial sounds your baby will start babbling (with sounds like da-da-da or ba-ba-ba) and will start using these sounds in gaps in your chat to them so it begins to feel like a little conversation. It’s a great way to start the day when baby wakes up in the morning babbling and cooing away in his crib like he’s telling himself a little story.
4-9 months old
The first time your baby rolls over can take you (and sometimes your baby) by surprise. You have become so used to them lying on their back or their tummy and suddenly they flip over and roll. This can happen as early as 4 months It can be as late as 8 months. Don’t worry if your baby is a late roller but if they haven’t mastered this skill by 8 months it’s a good idea to mention it to your health visitor. Some things that affect when a baby learns to roll can include their weight and how much time tummy time and floor time they get.
A lot of babies start rolling from back to front and then find they get stuck on their tummy! It takes them a while to then learn to roll from front to back so that they can choose what position they want to be in. When they do start to roll then, be extra cautious when they are on a raised baby change mat or lying on a bed.
Your baby will probably be able to sit up unaided between 4 and 7 months. Sitting relies on baby’s head and neck muscles being strong enough to hold them. Tummy time helps strengthen these muscles as it means that babies practice holding up their heads so it’s a good idea to have short periods of tummy time every day. Babies can start tummy time shortly after birth as long as they are alert and awake, and you can make it a little longer as baby grows depending on how comfortable they feel on their tummy. When your baby is learning to sit then they can be pretty wobbly to begin with so keep a close eye on them and it’s worth placing soft pillows in front/behind them in case they topple over.
Most babies learn to crawl between 7-10 months of age. Once your baby becomes mobile you’re entering into a whole new parenting phase, where you can’t take your eyes off them for a moment and they can move across the room at some speed!
Not all babies crawl in the traditional way. Some prefer bum-shuffling or slithering across the room on their stomachs. Some skip crawling completely and just wait until they are ready to find their feet and start cruising. Most will be crawling across the room to explore their surroundings by the time they reach their first birthday. The main thing to look out for is that your baby is becoming more mobile and finding new ways to travel and move. If, by 12 months your baby hasn’t shown much interest in becoming mobile (or if you’re worried at any time a little earlier than this) then talk to your doctor or health visitor.
At about 8-9 months babies may start to tell their parents that they are ready for finger foods, by picking up foods by themselves and feeding themselves. It’s a good time to give them soft chunks of healthy foods to let them start to explore! Try different tastes, colours and textures and let them play with their food as well as eat it. Apparently making a big old mess at dinner time may encourage their development and help them become faster learners.
10-12 months old
You will probably have to wait at least a full twelve months before your baby utters his first word. But before then you can help them learn language by talking to them a lot, reading baby books to them and singing to them. They may start to try to pronounce some basic words.
Your baby might well get to their first birthday without finding their feet. Don’t worry if they do. At around 9-12 months many babies will begin pulling themselves up into a standing position by leaning on furniture. They soon then might start ‘cruising’ – walking while holding onto something for stability. This is a backbreaking time for parents as they often want to hold onto your hands for support, but for babies practice makes perfect! Most babies take their first unaided steps between 12 and 18 months of age. It’s one of the most breath-taking and heart stopping milestones of all. Some babies are late walkers. They might just be a bit more cautious and wait until they are really really ready to take their first steps. If your baby isn’t walking by 15 months then you could mention it to your doctor or health visitor if you are concerned, but try not to worry as some babies just take more time to reach some milestones.
It’s not a race
All babies develop at their own rate. But it can be worrying if your baby is slower to meet their milestones than all the other babies you know or than the baby books tell you to expect. Other parents can enjoy sharing how early their babies reached their first milestones, and usually it’s done out of pride, but it can make you feel that you are doing something wrong if your baby is not matching the same pace.
It’s often better to focus less on when exactly baby reaches a milestone and more on their general progression. If your baby is progressing and making his way through different skills then it is a good sign that they are developing well. Throughout the first twelve months you will get to know your baby better than anybody else in the world and so you should always trust your instincts. If you’re ever worried about your baby’s growth or development always talk to your health visitor or your doctor. Even when your baby misses a milestone by a wide margin it is not always a reason to worry. But when true delays are caught early and parents seek the right help, babies are more likely to recover and get back on track.
How can I help baby reach his milestones?
It’s a great idea to gently encourage babies to move around after they are a few month’s old. You could start by putting a toy near their hand as they are lying on the floor, and watch them try to grab it (a wonderful first moment). When they are older you could maybe put a toy just out of their reach so they need to push off or roll to reach it. Remember to keep it gentle and not to push babies to sit up or stand until they’re ready.