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Joanne Van Zuidam

Baby Milestones: What Baby Will Do When

Baby’s first year is full of, well, firsts. Here’s your guide for what to expect when—and what to do if baby’s a little off schedule.

Watching baby grow and gain new skills is pretty thrilling—and it happens fast. That first year is packed with moments when your infant masters a tricky movement and reaches a baby milestone. He actually smiled! She clapped her hands! He pulled himself up! Can’t wait, right? So when will baby do what?

Every kid hits milestones at his own pace—so don’t freak out if yours doesn’t follow this guide to a tee. But it might be worth a talk with your child’s doctor if you’re worried or if baby misses a few biggies. “If it’s just one milestone that your child is a little behind on, mention it to your pediatrician,” says Tanya R. Altmann, MD, author of Mommy Calls (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2008). “But chances are, everything’s probably fine. However, if your child isn’t hitting multiple milestones across the board—not smiling and not rolling over, for example — then I’d be a little more concerned.”

Here’s a breakdown when the following baby milestones usually happen, plus how to help baby get there and what to do if she doesn’t.

Baby Milestone: Smiling

When it’s likely to happen: A baby should be smiling back at his parents around 2 months of age, but there are some instances when it may take a little longer, Altmann says, like if baby was born prematurely.

How to encourage it: You’re probably already doing it. Talk to baby and throw plenty of smiles his way.

What if baby misses the mark: “Smiling is really one of those first baby milestones I’m looking for as a pediatrician,” says Altmann. “If the baby isn’t smiling back at the parent by 2 months of age, I want to keep a close eye on him. Sometimes it will happen by 3 months, but if not, that’s when I’ll get concerned about possible neurological issues.”

Baby Milestone: Sleeping Through the Night

When it’s likely to happen: Generally, after 4 months of age, an infant should be able to sleep at least six to eight hours straight without feeding, Altmann says. And by 6 months of age, they should be able to go at least 8 to 10 hours without a feeding.

How to encourage it: Let baby sleep! Slowly start extending the time between nighttime feedings until you get there. And don’t rush to pick up baby the moment she cries at night. She needs to learn that if she wakes in the night, she doesn’t need you to help her fall back asleep again.

What if baby misses the mark: If she’s not sleeping through the night by 6 to 8 months, it might just be because you’re hitting the nursery too often at night, Altmann says, and you may want to consider backing off. But you may still want to mention it to your pediatrician—if baby keeps crying and can’t fall asleep, that can be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Baby Milestone: Rolling Over

When it’s likely to happen: Some infants start to roll as early as 3 months, but on average, it’s usually more like 4 to 6 months, Altmann says. “Initially, she’ll probably roll from front to back, and then she’ll master rolling back to front. Very often, baby will get stuck and may get upset and cry.” It’s important, though, to avoid leaving baby alone on an elevated surface long before that age, since babies start wriggling enough to fall pretty early on.

How to encourage it: Get down on the ground and talk to baby, cheering her on. Hold blocks or toys just out of reach so she can flip over trying to reach them.

What if baby misses the mark: If baby isn’t trying to roll over by 6 months of age, let your pediatrician know. Most likely, Altmann says, baby just needs more time. But if she’s not making any effort, that could be a sign something else is going on.

Baby Milestone: Sitting Up

When it’s likely to happen: Altmann estimates that about 50 percent of babies can sit—but probably pretty wobbly or propped up—at 6 months, but by 8 months of age, she says they should be able to sit comfortably and more steadily on their own.

How to encourage it: With any motor milestone, your child needs an opportunity to learn, so be sure you’re giving him plenty of free time on the floor. If you’re always wearing baby, carrying him or strapping him in a swing or chair, it may take him longer to learn to push up, roll over, sit up, pull up to stand and walk.

What if baby misses the mark: If your infant isn’t sitting on his own by 9 months, your pediatrician may suggest he be evaluated by a physical therapist.

Baby Milestone: Crawling

When it’s likely to happen: Baby should start crawling between 6 and 9 months.

How to encourage it: Give baby plenty of tummy time and free playtime on the ground. “Get down on the ground with her and show her a bright-colored toy, move the toy a foot away from her and then coax her to move toward the object,” Altmann suggests.

What if baby misses the mark: Don’t stress—she may be right on track anyhow. “Many experts don’t consider crawling a milestone, because a lot of infants won’t crawl at all,” Altmann says. She usually tells parents her definition of crawling is simply the method baby uses to get from one place to another. She could be wriggling on her tummy, rolling, scooting—it doesn’t have to be the typical hand-and-knees crawl most parents visualize.

Baby Milestone: Reaching, Grasping and Holding

When it’s likely to happen: “At 6 months of age, babies can bring both hands to their midline. So if you were to hold a toy in front of them, they would bring both hands up and try to grab it,” Altmann says. But it’s not until about 8 or 9 months that they use a pincer grasp, using their thumb and forefinger. “This is when they can pick up small objects and bring them to their mouth—and often when parents start finger foods,” Altmann says. “You also have to be careful, because that’s when they bring other small objects up to their mouth as well.”

How to encourage it: Offer baby safe objects— olorful or noisy toys work well— to grab and jiggle.

What if baby misses the mark: If baby isn’t picking up small pieces of food and feeding himself by 12 months, let your pediatrician know.

Baby Milestone: Clapping

When it’s likely to happen: It could be as early as 6 months, when baby sits up on her own, but it’s more likely to start closer to 8 or 9 months, Altmann says—and it may take a few more months for baby to master it. Waving is also usually learned around 8 to 10 months.

How to encourage it: Play patty-cake and other clapping games with baby. Your own clapping gets baby so excited, she’ll start to bring her hands together in an effort to clap along with you.

What if baby misses the mark: If by the one-year pediatrician’s visit baby isn’t mimicking any of your actions—whether it’s clapping, waving or responding to you when you wave and say, “I’m over here”—then definitely let baby’s doctor know.

Baby Milestone: Pulling Up to Stand

When it’s likely to happen: Though most infants will pull themselves up to a standing position between 9 and 12 months, Altmann says it’s not unusual for it to happen even earlier—like 8 months. “I warn parents at the six-month visit to drop the mattress down [in case] your infant pulls to stand in the middle of the night when you’re not aware that they can. You don’t want them to fall out!” You’ll also want to be aware of any furniture that baby could try to pull on that could tumble, like a top-heavy chair or an entertainment center.

How to encourage it: Like with sitting, make sure baby gets lots of free-range playtime.

What if baby misses the mark: If he’s not pulling to stand by his first birthday, let your pediatrician know. “It doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with him, because he could be almost there,” Altmann says. “But I think it’s a good idea to check in with the doctor to make sure there’s nothing else going on.”

Baby Milestone: Cruising and Walking

When it’s likely to happen: Usually, around 9 to 12 months, after they learn to pull themselves to stand, babies start to cruise—teaching themselves to walk by holding on to furniture. “When they initially pull to stand, they’ll grab on, let go and drop down on their bottoms. But then they’ll figure out that they can hold on and walk along the couch,” Altmann says. “Within a couple weeks to a couple months, they’ll let go and take their first step.” She says to expect that around the one-year mark, but for some kids, it may not be until 15 months or even later.

How to encourage it: More floor play.

What if baby misses the mark: There’s probably nothing to be worried about, unless baby’s missing other milestones, but it’s worth a mention and maybe an evaluation by a physical therapist.

Plus, more from The Bump:

Vaccinations: What Baby Will Need

Baby Sleep Myths Busted

How to Help Baby Sleep Better