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 bottle-fed 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 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.”

Baby walking milestones

Your baby's first steps are a special moment, but as well as representing a new chapter in her life they're also the culmination of months of effort on her part. She'll begin by learning to roll over and then sit (it's not so far off having a puppy at this stage), before beginning to crawl and stand, and then eventually putting one foot in front of the other and walking. Following her mobility milestones will help you to make sure she is developing as expected – and prepare you for life chasing after a toddler – so here's a guide to her movements from first shuffles to early faltering steps

When do babies roll over?

Babies usually begin to roll between two and four months.

This milestone marks her first attempt at becoming mobile. She'll only be able to roll over once she has developed strong neck and torso muscles, and enough control to twist her body.

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

Some babies will roll from their back onto their tummy but most start by going tummy to back first, which is easier as they can use their arms for leverage. Your baby's first roll may take her and you by surprise – her world has just flipped upside down.

Plenty of tummy time is key to developing the strength for this skill although be warned: once your little one starts rolling over, you'll need to be extra vigilant so she doesn't have an accident. Don't leave her unattended lying on your bed or couch, just in case she takes that as her opportunity to roll over and onto the floor.

From this point, your baby will be keen to use her newly strengthened muscles and it won't be long before she's sitting up by herself and crawling. You may even find that she skips this stage entirely and, without warning, shoots off across the living room floor one day.

When do babies sit up by themselves?

sleeping through the night

By the time your baby is three to four months, she'll have mastered holding her head up by herself. From there, you can begin supporting her to sit up. Again, tummy time is key in helping your baby get to this point. Every time she's on her tummy, she'll start naturally lifting her head to look around, strengthening her neck and spine.

Supporting her to sit is a great way to help stimulate your baby's development in other ways, offering her a new view of her world and improving her visual skills before she becomes mobile.

When supporting your baby to sit, keep your hands around her waist or use pillows to prop her up. If you have a nursing pillow, sit her into it for support. Not only will this help to strengthen her lower back and core muscles, she'll also develop balance.

From four to six months, most babies can sit for a few seconds propped up or by themselves but stay close by – she'll be wobbly at first and you may need to catch her from toppling sideways. She might start off by stretching her arms out in front of her or to the side to steady herself.

From eight months, she'll be able to sit up by herself easily for a good long while.

If your baby can't hold her head up by four months or sit up unaided by nine months, speak to your doctor or health visitor.

“My first daughter sat up the day before she turned six months. She was a textbook baby as far as milestones went. My second daughter didn't sit up until she was 10 months. However she was crawling by six months, so if you tried to sit her up, she just flung herself on her tummy and crawled away.”

When do babies crawl?

Most babies start to crawl somewhere between six and 10 months. All babies are different and some might start crawling earlier while others might not be on the move until 12 months or beyond.

What's important to know is that crawling styles can vary. They can include the traditional crawl where your baby pushes herself up on all fours and takes off across the living room. Alternatively, she might shuffle on her bum, crawl backwards (much to her own frustration) or crab-crawl sideways with one leg extended out and the other bent.

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

Your baby will naturally learn to crawl so you don't need to try to teach her. Her first foray into crawling will usually begin with the commando crawl, where she'll shuffle about on her tummy and 'swim' with her arms and legs. Offering plenty of tummy time is the best way to encourage your baby to develop her crawl. This will help to strengthen her tummy muscles, arms and legs and eventually she'll learn to pull herself up into this position.

Some eager babies can bypass the crawling stage completely and move straight onto pulling themselves up into a standing position, so don't panic if your baby doesn't crawl. What counts is not how she moves but that she does move.

When do babies stand?

baby rattle

Most babies are able to stand by nine to 12 months, although some start trying to pull themselves up onto furniture from as early as seven months. Initially, your baby will hold onto the couch, the coffee table, your leg – whatever is within easy reach and can be used as a prop. This includes her cot, so you might want to check that it's adjusted to the right height to stop her escaping over the side of it.

Her balance will improve as she wobbles, falls and stabilises herself. You can encourage your baby to strengthen her leg muscles by pulling her into a standing position while she's on your lap and giving her plenty of supervised playtime. Place her toys on the couch or another lower surface, like a step, to entice her to stand up and reach for them. It's a good idea to place lots of cushions nearby to break her fall, at least until she's able to sit herself back down on the ground.

If your baby is not standing up by her first birthday, speak to your doctor or health visitor.

When do babies walk?

Most babies are able to walk by 16 months although some begin as early as nine months and some are closer to 18 months. For the first year of her life, she has been building towards this milestone. Rolling over, crawling, sitting and standing have all helped to build the muscle strength and confidence she needs to start walking.

Once your baby has begun to stand, she'll naturally start to pull herself up and cruise around by holding on to pieces of furniture. She'll be unsteady at first but the more you allow her the space to do this and encourage her, the sooner she'll build the confidence she needs to let go and take her first steps. Avoid using baby walkers as these tend to do the work for your child and don't give her the opportunity to build up her leg muscles.

Even once your baby takes her first steps she may revert back to crawling at times, but this is nothing to worry about. She's just taking her time to get comfortable with this new way of getting around. Some babies are quite slow to walk but if your little one is showing no signs of walking by 18 months, then is the time to speak to your doctor.

“My daughter was 22 months when she started walking properly. We just kept practising and letting her walk everywhere. She got there in the end. The thing that worried me was what other people were saying: 'Is she STILL not walking?' or 'You should take her to the doctor'. I think different babies just learn things at different paces.”