Give your baby a boost, and help her reach those precious milestones

You may be wondering when your child will flash that first smile or take that first step. “Every kid is different, and some babies develop early and some later. That’s why we have averages,” says Melissa Meyer, M.D., a pediatrician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, in Columbus, OH. “And if your baby is advanced in one area, such as gross motor skills (like walking) he may be a bit behind in fine motor skills (like feeding himself).” Whichever baby milestones you're eagerly awaiting, here are some easy—and fun!—ways to help your infant make these important strides.

Smiling! 1 to 3 Months of Age

While newborns often smile in their sleep, the first social smile (one directed at another person or in reaction to a tickle or other social interaction) usually occurs at around 1 month. But some newborns won’t flash a smile until closer to 3 months, and that’s fine.

Encourage it: Give her plenty of up-close face time. To a newborn, there’s nothing more fascinating than a mom or dad’s face.

Talk to the doctor if: Your baby doesn’t smile at people by three months.

Babbling! 3 to 4 Months of Age

Babies usually begin making gurgling and cooing sounds in response to your voice and face during the second or third month of life. By about 3 months, they often babble when they hear voices and other noises.

Encourage it: Talk and sing to your baby often, using a quiet, high-pitched voice.

Talk to the doctor if: Your baby doesn’t babble by 3 to 4 months.

Holding his Head Up! 3 to 4 Months of Age

By around 3 months, your baby’s neck muscles are usually strong enough to allow him to hold his head up when he’s lying on his tummy.

Encourage it: Give him tummy time every day, even if it's a few minutes at a time, to help strengthen neck muscles.

Talk to the doctor if: Your baby can’t support his head well at 4 months.

Sitting Up! 6 to 8 Months of Age

Most babies are able to sit up without supporting their arms by about 6 months.

Encourage it: Prop her up with pillows to support her back while she gets used to sitting up. At first, she’ll probably lean forward in an attempt to support her upper body with her arms —the so-called tripod position. But she'll get the hang of it soon enough.

Talk to the doctor if: Your baby can’t sit up with help by about 8 months.

Crawling! 7 to 10 Months of Age

Most babies begin crawling somewhere between 7 and 10 months. At first, some babies actually crawl backward by using primarily their arm muscles, which are often more developed than their legs. Other babies prefer to “commando crawl” on their stomachs, using their arms to pull themselves forward. Don’t be concerned if your baby doesn’t crawl at all, but instead goes straight from sitting to walking. Some kids never crawl, which is totally fine.

Encourage it: Get down on the floor and gently coax her to crawl toward a favorite toy or other colorful object.

Talk to the doctor if: Your baby isn’t able to stand when supported by 12 months.

Picking stuff up! 8 to 12 Months of Age

When babies begin mastering the “pincer grip” —the ability to grab small items using their thumb and first or second finger —they love showing off their new skill at mealtimes with dry cereal and other finger foods.

Encourage it: Leave small toys on his highchair or in front of him while he’s sitting on the floor.

Talk to the doctor if: Your baby doesn’t pick up small objects by 12 months of age.

Cruising! 9 to 12 Months of Age

Before a baby walks unassisted for the first time, she’ll do plenty of cruising, which means walking while holding onto furniture such as a couch or coffee table. This usually happens about two or three months before she takes her first steps.

Encourage it: Place low furniture like chairs within baby's reach so she can use them for pulling up. But make sure the items have no sharp or pointy edges and are secured or properly weighted so they won’t topple.

Talk to the doctor if: Your baby isn’t able to pull herself up and stand using a low piece of furniture by 12 months.

Walking! 9 to 15 Months of Age

While most babies begin to walk around their first birthday, anywhere from about 9 months to 15 months is within the normal range.

Encourage it: Hold both of his hands and have him walk between your legs or beside you.

Talk to the doctor if: Your baby isn’t walking on his own by the age of 16 months.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 19 Dec 2011

Last Modified: 06 Nov 2014