Baby milestones

Baby milestones

There are few moments more precious than the milestones that mark your baby's first year. Smiling, laughing and your baby's first words are special memories for any parent but sometimes your little one has her own schedule. Having a rough idea of when to expect these milestones will help you to track your baby's development but try not to obsess over timelines. If your baby was born premature hitting these markers may take her longer. Every child is different and most will get there in the end – and in their own good time

When can babies see?

After nine months curled up in the comfort of your womb, it's no wonder that your baby's eyesight takes a while to adjust to the sights she'll see upon birth. Initially, she'll tend to be drawn to light sources and movement. It may seem as though her eyes are wandering or even crossed sometimes as she'll only be able to hold her gaze for a few seconds.

By the time she's four weeks old, she'll be able to focus and hold her gaze for longer and may start moving her head from side to side to follow movement. She won't get the hang of moving just her eyes, rather than her whole head, until she's about eight weeks old.

From day one though, she will be able to see objects within 20 to 30 centimetres of her. Luckily that means she can see your face when you're up close and feeding her – although she'll only be seeing you in black and white. Your newborn won't have good colour vision until she's about five months old.

During the first few weeks, you can help to stimulate her vision by talking to her and – yes – by making lots of silly faces and noises. All those seemingly daft sounds you hear mothers making actually have a purpose: helping to focus her eyes on the source of the sound and improve her coordination.

When do babies sleep through the night?

sleeping through the night

From four months, your baby will begin to sleep for longer stretches. By the time she is six months, she might be sleeping for six to eight hours a night without waking for a feed.

The gradually decreasing need for night feeds will help your baby to sleep uninterrupted through the night and you'll also get some much needed rest. You'll only be able to reduce the night feeds, however, if your baby has been gaining weight as expected.

Breastfed babies metabolise milk faster than ones who are bottlefed so you may find you reduce feeds more slowly if your baby is breastfed.

When do babies smile?

Probably one of the most cherished milestones in your baby's life, her first smile is confirmation that she recognises you and that she's happy – or is it? Most babies will give random smiles almost from birth and it can confuse you, especially if there seems to be no reason for it. Those smirks are known as 'reflex smiles' and occur spontaneously, sometimes while your little one is asleep, sometimes because she has wind and sometimes for absolutely no reason at all. They are fleeting reactions and don't last long.

My first son didn't smile for about 10 weeks. As for his eyes – I was convinced he was blind for the first month! Try not to worry.

You'll notice her real smiles from about six weeks onwards although some babies might not flash a grin until they are closer to 12 weeks. These are called 'responsive smiles' and occur as a reaction to stimulation such as your voice or a funny noise. When you smile back it encourages her even more and you'll notice she holds her smile for longer and you can almost see the expression in her eyes.

You can encourage her responsive smiles by talking, singing and playing with her. By six months, most babies will smile when they see people they know or hear sounds they recognise.

When do babies laugh?

My daughter didn't laugh until she was seven months. Maybe I’m not that funny!

As with smiling, your baby's first giggles will tend to be reflexive and come from nowhere. That doesn't take away the cute factor though and as you coo and laugh back, it will help encourage her to keep smiling and giggling. From about four months, she'll be laughing in response to things, whether that's a silly voice, sound or tickles. As she gets older, she'll laugh more at specific things that she finds funny and you'll see her personality develop. You can encourage her by playing with her and laughing back.

“My baby first laughed at around 12/13 weeks. He had uncontrollable giggles over me rustling a plastic carrier bag. Funniest thing on the planet apparently.”

“My son only laughs if I'm being really over the top and loud! He's always been quite a giggler though. My friend's daughter was a more serious for longer but is as giggly now.”

When do babies grasp objects?

baby rattle

Right from birth, your baby will be able to grasp objects but, as with many of her responses as a newborn, it will be a reflex rather than a response. She'll grab your finger when you touch her hand or hold your breast while you're feeding her. As lovely as these moments are, at this early point in her life, this type of hold is purely spontaneous.

As her hand and eye coordination improves, usually when she's three to four months, her desire to reach out and grasp will also develop. You'll notice her reaching for toys or for you. By four months she'll be able to hold more robust objects such as blocks. By six months, you'll want to nail down everything as she'll be picking up objects and trying to put them in her mouth. This new skill makes it a good time to wean your baby onto solid foods if you wish, as she'll enjoying picking up finger foods to taste. You'll also notice that she'll be able to hold her own bottle or sippy cup.

Between nine and 12 months, she'll develop her 'pincer grip' meaning she'll be able to hold smaller objects like peas and throw them off her plate. Your baby may also start to develop a preference for which hand she uses – right or left – though this will take another couple of years to become fully pronounced.

When do babies talk?

Your baby will usually speak her first clear word around the time of her first birthday. It's often something or someone familiar like 'mama' or 'dada'. Since birth your little one has been verbally communicating with you. Admittedly this has been mostly through crying, but from about three months you'll have noticed gurgling and cooing. These sounds are your child's attempt at mimicking what they hear from you.

My son had no words until at least 19 months but was talking his head off by two. They each take their own time!

Between six and seven months, she'll start using his lips and tongue to make mono-syllabic sounds like 'ba' or 'da' and will build from there. Once she's said her first proper word, she'll begin to add others to her vocabulary, starting with things she knows like her cot, toy or bottle. By 18 months, most babies become vocab sponges adding new words to their repertoire every day, as well as forming the ability to ask questions.

You can help your child's language development by talking to them and using full words as opposed to abbreviations or nicknames. Even if she's not yet able to speak properly, she's always listening. If your child hasn't said anything by 16 months, you should discuss her speech and language development with your GP or health visitor.

“My son had about six words until he was two-and-a-half years old. He understood everything we said but for some reason just would not use words. Suddenly at 30 months, the floodgates opened and he spoke in sentences from that day onwards.”