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Baby milestones in the first 18 months


During the first 18 months of their lives, babies go from being absolutely helpless to being little people who can walk. Melodie de Jager, from BabyGym, says “the motor milestones are viewed as beacons of progress” that enable the brain, heart and body to function properly. The quality of a baby’s development during these early months “determines the quality of her emotional, social and intellectual development” going forward. But remember, each baby is unique and develops at their own pace.
De Jager gives some guidelines on when your baby should reach each milestone, some of the motor skills they will need, and a few activities you can do with your baby.
1. Suckling
When: from birth
What happens:
  • Your baby learns to open and close her mouth and lips, breathe at the same time and cuddle up to Mom.
  • Due to her startle responses, she has a root reflex when she touched near the mouth.
If baby needs help: “gently simulate contractions around the crown of the head by rhythmically and gently applying and releasing pressure” before or during a feed, says de Jager
2. Rolling
When: 4–6 months
What happens:
  • Your baby needs lots of tummy time, while stretching her body, waving her arms and kicking her legs.
  • She develops some head control, pushes up on her arms and arches her back, so she can roll form her stomach to her back.
  • At 7–9 months, she develops stronger muscles, and she can roll from her back to her stomach.
If baby needs help: develop the core stomach muscles by lying your baby on your lap and smoothly pulling her into a sitting position. She will gradually start doing some of the work by herself.
3. Sitting and Grasping
When: 4–6 months
What happens:
  • Your baby can gauge the space around her and she reaches for objects. As she gains head control, muscle tone and balance she can start sitting with support.
  • At 7–9 months, she can grasp objects and maybe hold her own bottle. As she gains more balance and muscle tone, she can sit unassisted.
  • Between 10–12 months she learns to separate her thumb from her other fingers to pick up small objects and transfer them between her hands. She starts learning to use a spoon or fork. She can also sit indefinitely and rotate.
If baby needs help: aid sitting by giving her plenty of rug time for rolling over, which will encourage her to support herself on her forearms. For grasping, massage her hands and give her tummy time so she can place weight on her hands.
4. Crawling
When: 10–12 months
What happens:
  • Your baby learns to push her head and shoulders, then her hips and bum, and then her whole body, off the floor. Forward and backward, rocking on all fours, also develops balance.
  • Babies usually start by using their arms more than their legs, and may go backwards, or in circles before figuring out how to move forward.
  • She then develops cross–crawling (moving one arm and the opposite leg), and starts pulling herself up on objects or furniture.
If baby needs help: place a rectangular towel on the floor, and put her on her tummy on the towel, with the ends sticking out on either side. Pull the ends upwards to encourage her to rise up on all fours. Gently rock her back and forth.
5. Walking
When: 11–18 months
What happens:
  • Over and above muscle development, your baby will need a good grasp to start pulling up on objects, as well as visual development. De Jager notes that this is a very complicated process, and only 60 percent of babies walk by their first birthday.
  • She starts by cruising along, using the furniture to steady herself. She may need some support and encouragement at first.
  • She is then able to stand and then walk without help.
  • Soon she can walk backwards and sideways, and then run and jump.
If baby needs help: place her in a kneeling position in front of a low, sturdy object. Raise her knee, keeping it straight above the ankle, and place her foot flat on the floor. Gently lift her so that the weight shifts to the foot and slowly raise her to an upright position. Repeat a few times every day.
Some advice:
  • It is important for children to reach and learn each milestone. De Jager explains that these milestones are like the foundation of a house. If a milestone is missed, developmental cracks may appear. “Preventing a developmental crack is wiser and far easier than fixing a crack.”
  • When it comes to reaching milestones, “earlier is not better” says de Jager. “Earlier means less movement repetitions per milestone meaning that the cement doesn’t quite dry before the next row of developmental bricks are stacked”.
  • Don’t worry if your baby is late in reaching a milestone, but be alert. If she is late by more than a month, visit a therapist or doctor who is trained in assisting the development of babies.
  • Most babies should have no problem with reaching their milestones in sequence and within the general time frame. However, if there were some difficulties during pregnancy or in the first few months, then do activities that can help you “jump start baby’s motor development”, says de Jager.
  • Make sure that your home environment is safe for a developing and busy baby.

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