First-year milestones

Here's what your baby will be up to before his first birthday

By Trish Snyder
First-year milestones

A baby’s brain is changing at highway speed, and milestones — from raising her head to picking up a Cheerio — are the radar paediatricians use to ensure she’s acquiring essential motor, communication and social skills along the way. For parents, every smile or coo is another sign your baby’s motoring in the right direction. So watch closely and enjoy the ride.

Motor skills and vision

Newborn to 1 month • when touched on cheek near mouth, turns head to that side (rooting reflex) • when palm is touched, baby’s hand closes around a finger (grasping reflex) • turns head and eyes toward diffused light. Vision still blurred but best at 10 to 30 cm (4 to 12 in)

1 to 3 months • prefers looking at high-contrast areas of faces: forehead, eyes, mouth • visually follows a bright object when it is moved slowly • perceives colour by about 3 months • hands open out from fists

2 to 4 months • when placed on tummy, baby can lift head and shoulders • can briefly hold a toy when you place it in his palms (doesn’t use thumbs yet) • brings hands into eye range — the start of eyes and hands working together 4 to 6 months • begins to roll from tummy to back (but could startle into a roll before this, so never leave a newborn unattended on a raised surface) • reaches for objects • brings toys to mouth to explore them

6 to 9 months • rolls both ways • sits without support; stands with assistance • picks up toys with thumb and side of forefinger • moves between sitting and lying down • crawls, creeps or shuffles on bottom (though many kids skip this phase) • may crawl up stairs


9 to 12 months • pulls up into an unsteady stand a month or two before first step • begins cruising while holding furniture • points with index finger • can set things down without dropping them • can deliberately drop toys (may start earlier)

10 to 12 months • uses pincer grip (index finger to thumb) to pick up small objects • drinks from cup with little assistance • attempts to feed self with spoon, though very messy

12 to 18 months • takes first steps

Newborn to 1 month • cries to express needs • discriminates parents’ voices and shows preference for native language and stories and songs heard prenatally

Up to 3 months • startles or cries at loud noises • stops moving and seems to listen to speech and other sounds • starts making oohs and aahs


2½ to 4 months • engages in “conversations” by taking turns making sounds and waiting for your reaction • shows preference for mother’s voice and can differentiate between male and female voices

3 to 6 months • looks toward a sound or voice • smiles when spoken to • responds to changes in caregiver’s tone of voice (sadness, excitement, anger) • makes several consonant sounds: b, g, k, m, p • seeks your attention by looking at your face and making sounds

5 to 7 months • expresses mood with sound and body language • notices your reactions while experimenting with pitch and volume of sounds

6 to 8 months • can recognize frequently heard words (such as feet)

6 to 9 months • may respond to name by looking up or stopping activity • starts putting identical syllables together, often using b and d (baba, dada)


9 to 12 months • responds to simple commands (sit down, come here) • imitates gestures: opens hand to say “give me,” waves goodbye • brings toys to show you, demonstrating an intention to communicate

10 to 12 months • can point to body parts (nose, tummy) • may say first word

At birth • makes eye contact and shows preference for people’s faces • recognizes mother’s scent, voice and, within days, her face

6 weeks to 3 months • smiles socially toward end of this period • anticipates: stops crying at sight of breast or bottle

3½ to 5 months • consistently smiles at familiar people and begins to fuss when they leave • may show jealousy when Mom attends to another baby • laughs, often triggered by certain sounds


6 to 8 months • may mirror the emotions of others (crying when another baby cries or looking sad when you frown) — the beginning of empathy • enjoys moving to music • gets excited at the sight of familiar people or toys • shows fear and anger

7 to 9 months • enjoys games such as peekaboo, pat-a-cake • is increasingly wary of unfamiliar people or situations; the start of separation anxiety

10 to 11 months • looks to you if unsure about a situation: the beginning of “social referencing”

10½ to 13 months • begins to show gender-based toy preferences (action toys for boys, soft toys for girls) • starts to show interest in other babies • enjoys turn-taking play • shows attachment to many people

Is my baby normal?


Your son sampled his first birthday cake four months ago and is still content to crawl. Meanwhile, the one-year-old next door is practically jogging. Should you worry?

“There’s a very broad range of what is considered normal for any of these milestones,” explains Michelle Ponti, a paediatrician in London, Ont. Furthermore, it’s not a race. The baby who says her first baba at 12 months will speak just as well as one who began to say it at nine months.

Your child’s doctor may investigate, however, if your baby hasn’t achieved a milestone within the normal range (for example, not walking at 18 months), or if your baby has gained a skill and then lost it — known as milestone regression. If you’re concerned, speak to your doctor.

Babies aren’t the only ones adjusting to life for the first 12 months. Moms hit some unexpected milestones too:

The birth Cradling your newborn moments after birth, you are hopelessly in love: with your baby, so tiny and perfect; with your partner, so sensitive and supportive; with the anaesthetist, so generous with those top-ups...


First tantrum Your hormones are erupting, your stitches are throbbing and you’ve scraped eight hours of shut-eye out of the past three days when your partner announces that he’s due at work on Monday. You can’t decide whether to throttle him or tether him to the house, so you default to sobbing.

Yay, boobs! You try on your regular clothes again. Your jeans will have to wait, but you celebrate your new cleavage with a few catcalls.

Slumber party You arrive home from a family dinner with junior sawing logs in his car seat, where he proceeds to sleep for an unprecedented 5 hours and 28 minutes. You contemplate the car seat as a long-term solution.

First date, baby! You pump a bottle to prepare for your first post-baby night out: three hours with no diapers, no feedings and no fussing. You and your sweetie talk non-stop — about the baby.

Inaugural parenting guilt trip You turn around just in time to watch your baby plunge off the edge of your bed. After a lusty cry, he’s fine. You, however, feel your heart stop each time the scene replays in your head.


Separation anxiety (yours) A month before you return to work, junior says his first word. You savour it. His first step is likely to be equally thrilling — for the daycare.

Thanks to the following experts: Elizabeth Mickelson, developmental paediatrician, Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children, Vancouver Mansi Parekh, speech-language pathologist, Macaulay Child Development Centre, Toronto Michelle Ponti, community paediatrician, London, Ont. Janet Werker, professor of psychology and Canada Research Chair, Infant Studies Centre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver

This article was originally published on May 14, 2007

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