Developmental milestones: birth to 1 year

A first smile. A first step. A first word. These are the milestones that parents are eager to share with family and friends. But they are not the only milestones your baby will achieve that first year. Each month, your baby will master important skills that serve as the building blocks for continued growth and development. 

Throughout your baby’s first year, growth and development are measured in inches, pounds, and milestones—predictable skills that all normal children are expected to achieve at some point in time. Knowing when children typically achieve various milestones can help parents recognize developmental delays early on and seek appropriate care.

Your child’s health care provider will discuss various milestones with you during your child’s check-ups to ensure that your child is growing as expected. Developmental milestones are divided into five categories: 

  • Gross motor skills. These skills involve the body’s large muscles (trunk, arms, legs, and neck). Examples of gross motor skills include controlling the head, sitting, standing, walking, running, jumping, and riding a bike. 
  • Fine motor skills. These skills require precision movements of the hands and fingers: picking up a pea, writing with a pen or pencil, painting a picture, or playing a flute. 
  • Language skills. Early language skills include communicating through facial expressions, body movements, crying, cooing, and laughing. Babies build on these early skills to develop the ability to communicate with words. 
  • Social and play skills. These skills are essential to interacting and playing together, as well as solving problems collaboratively. They include giving, sharing, taking turns, and engaging others in play. 
  • Cognitive skills. Your child’s ability to solve problems, adapt to new situations, and know right from wrong are examples of cognitive development.

The following chart highlights the major milestones you’ll likely see from your baby during the first year. Don’t be surprised if your baby is ahead of schedule in some areas or lags behind in others. While it is tempting to compare your baby to other babies you know, it is important to remember that every child develops at her own pace.

0–2 Months

Gross motor skills 

  • Sucks, swallows, and breathes while feeding 
  • Shows strong reflexes—rooting (turns head and seeks breast) and palmer grasp (closes hand around a finger) 
  • Lifts head momentarily about 45 degrees when lying on stomach 
  • Relaxes arms and legs from the tight fetal position

Fine motor skills 

  • Holds hands in tight fists, then begins to uncurl fingers 
  • Attempts to hold a rattle

Language skills 

  • Recognizes familiar voices (parents, siblings, caregiver) 
  • Cries generically (hasn’t yet developed different cries for “I’m hungry” versus “I’m lonely”)

Social and play skills 

  • Responds to calming actions, such as rocking, singing, or babywearing 
  • Has short periods of wakefulness 
  • Follows/tracks parents with eyes (sees most clearly around eight inches or the distance between a mom’s and baby’s face when breastfeeding)

Cognitive skills 

  • Assumes that expressions of distress will be followed by comfort 
  • Begins to develop trust 
  • Fusses if needs are not met quickly enough 
  • Reacts to sounds 
  • Realizes cues generate predictable responses

Developmental tip: Engage in skin-to-skin and eye-to-eye contact; massage your baby (learn how here); carry her in your arms or in a sling; feed her on request (at the first sign of hunger). 

Feeding tip: Small, frequent breastfeedings (at least eight feedings in each 24 hours) will ensure that your baby is getting enough to eat and help you build a good milk supply

Watch your baby for cues that she’s getting hungry—she may smack her lips or suck on her hands. Crying is a late sign of hunger. Don’t wait for your baby to cry before offering the breast; it’s harder for a crying baby to latch on well.

2–4 Months

Gross motor skills 

  • Lifts head higher than bottom 
  • Rolls from back to side, tummy to side 
  • Bears weight on legs when held upright 
  • Rests on forearms when lying on stomach 
  • Lifts head and chest when lying on stomach 
  • Stretches legs and kicks when lying on stomach

Fine motor skills 

  • Plays with hands in front of face 
  • Holds onto the hair and clothes of anyone nearby 
  • Holds rattle 
  • Bats at dangling objects with hands

Language skills 

  • Makes a variety of sounds—single vowel sounds, screeches 
  • Coos, squeals, and gurgles 
  • Says “ooh-ooh” and “aah-aah” 
  • Communicates through body movements—waving arms and legs, opening up hands 
  • Blows bubbles

Social and play skills 

  • Smiles and shows emotions—happiness and sadness 
  • Laughs 
  • Cries according to need (for example, has a distinct cry for “I’m hungry” versus “I’m lonely”) 
  • Self-calms by sucking on hands 
  • Loves human faces, maintains eye contact and mimics facial gestures

Cognitive skills 

  • Recognizes cause and effect 
  • Realizes actions cause others to react—a smile generates a smile in return 
  • Turns head toward sound made at ear level 
  • Shows boredom by crying or fussing if there are no changes in activity 
  • Realizes objects have names

Developmental tip: Hold your baby on your chest so she can peer over your shoulder; provide ample tummy time to improve neck control; play with your baby’s hands; have “conversations” with your baby—make sounds and encourage your baby to repeat them; read books with large, colorful pictures. 

Feeding tip: Expect growth spurts during which your baby will want to breastfeed more often. This is nature’s way of bumping up your milk supply to meet your growing baby’s needs.

4–6 Months 

Gross motor skills 

  • Sits when assisted or propped with pillows (supervision required) 
  • Holds head up 90 degrees when lying on stomach 
  • Pushes up on hands when lying on stomach 
  • Controls head well when held 
  • Sits leaning forward on hands—tripod stance 
  • Rolls both front-to-back and back-to-front 
  • Assumes pre-crawl position with head and part of tummy raised

Fine motor skills 

  • Reaches accurately with one hand 
  • Points to objects 
  • Holds small objects in palm of hand 
  • Transfers object from hand-to-mouth

Language skills 

  • Gets attention by babbling 
  • Mimics sounds, inflections, gestures

Social and play skills 

  • Uses different sounds for different needs 
  • Raises hands for “Pick me up!” 
  • Anticipates food on sight 
  • Shows interest in colors 
  • Makes “raspberry” sounds 
  • Smiles and vocalizes to mirror 
  • Mimics facial movements

Cognitive skills 

  • Predetermines hand position needed to grasp specific objects 
  • Learns which sounds and actions are most likely to get a desired response 
  • Follows moving objects with eyes

Developmental tip: Play peek-a-boo; look in a mirror and identify body parts; introduce blocks. 

Feeding tip: Ready for solids? Signs that your baby is ready include sitting up without support, controlling her head, bringing food to her mouth, and swallowing without choking. The AAP recommends babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. If your baby seems distracted during feedings, you may have more luck breastfeeding in a quiet place. Most 4-month-olds can see more clearly now and are fascinated by the world around them.

6–8 Months 

Gross motor skills 

  • Sits unsupported 
  • Begins pre-crawling: lifting knees off floor, scooching, wiggling 
  • Stretches to reach objects beyond arm’s length

Fine motor skills 

  • Uses hands to “rake” small objects 
  • Transfers objects from hand-to-hand

Language skills 

  • Puts vowels and consonants together 
  • Uses tongue to change sound

Social and play skills 

  • Responds to name 
  • Says “dada” (though non-specifically) 
  • Plays peek-a-boo

Cognitive skills 

  • Looks to floor when toys are dropped 
  • Locates partially hidden objects 
  • Explores visually and by putting objects in mouth

Developmental tip: Bounce to music; poke at bubbles; play with balls; “hide” objects. 

Feeding tip: At around 6 months of age, most babies are ready for solid foods. Expect messy mealtimes! Exploring and handling her food is part of your child’s learning process. Don’t worry if more food ends up on the floor than in her mouth. It can take 10 or more offerings before a new taste is accepted. Learn more about starting solids here.

8–10 Months 

Gross motor skills 

  • Sits unsupported 
  • Crawls on hands and knees 
  • Pulls up to stand, while leaning on furniture for support

Fine motor skills 

  • Picks up tiny objects with thumb and forefinger—pincer grasp 
  • Bangs objects on table 
  • Feeds self (albeit messily) 
  • Drinks from a cup (to practice, give a few sips of water in a plastic, non-sippy cup)

Language skills 

  • Continues building new sound combinations 
  • Uses tongue to change sound

Social and play skills 

  • Shows separation anxiety 
  • Learns speech sounds by focusing on others’ mouths

Cognitive skills 

  • Recognizes spatial relationships—in and out, nesting objects 
  • Puts mental images and labels together (“dog”) 
  • Explores visually and by putting objects in mouth

Developmental tip: If you haven’t already, be sure to babyproof your home so your baby can explore her world safely. 

Feeding tip: Even though your baby may be ready for finger foods, most babies have only a few teeth at this age, so start with mushy foods like small bits of banana or well-cooked carrots. Click here for a list of good first finger foods. If your baby is bottle-fed, begin to transition her from the bottle to a cup to reduce the risk of tooth decay.

10–12 Months 

Gross motor skills 

  • “Cross-crawls”—moves arm and opposite leg simultaneously 
  • Moves easily from crawling position to sitting 
  • Sits for long periods 
  • Crawls up stairs (but not down) 
  • Walks while holding onto furniture 
  • Takes first solo steps

Fine motor skills 

  • Points with index finger 
  • Stacks blocks 
  • Turns pages of a book

Language skills 

  • Says “mama” and “dada” (now accurately identifying each parent) 
  • Understands “no” 
  • Tries to imitate animal sounds

Social and play skills 

  • Waves bye-bye 
  • Shows stranger anxiety

Cognitive skills 

  • Has sense of object permanence, that things out of sight still exist 
  • Can find hidden toys under a blanket 
  • Develops depth perception Responds to simple requests, such as “wave bye-bye”

Developmental tip: Engage your baby in a variety of activities—fill and empty containers; stack (and knock over) blocks; greet guests; walk with assistance. 

Feeding tip: Help your child develop healthy eating habits that include a balanced, nutritious, low-sugar, low-salt diet by offering a variety of foods including whole grains, vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, poultry, and dairy. 

As parents, we are always quick to question whether our children are “normal.” It is important to understand that milestones are guidelines and not hard and fast rules. Many children celebrate their first birthday prior to taking their first step. Other children have mastered a handful of words before they turn 1. 

At each well-child visit, your child’s health care provider will assess her growth over time to ensure she is developing well physically, mentally, and behaviorally. As you progress through your child’s first year, keep in mind that every child develops at her own pace, and there is generally little need for worry or concern. Relax. Enjoy your child. And remember, the joy is in the journey.

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