By Hillary Kruger, M.D.
The first year of an infant's life is filled with tremendous growth and
development. There is a range of what constitutes normal acquisition of
the various milestones. Below you will find a summary of
social-emotional growth, the acquisition of language, and the
development of fine and gross motor skills during the first year of
Progress varies among babies, so please consult your pediatrician
for further information about these milestones. A great resource to
have on hand is Dr. Steven P. Shelov's book, Caring for Your Baby and Young Children (Bantam).
- Social-Emotional Development Newborn babies look about
with a glassy gaze at a brand new world. Early on babies show a
preference for looking at human faces. The ideal distance for a baby to
focus during the first couple of months is about eight to twelve inches
-- the distance between your baby and your face when you hold the baby
in the crook of your arm.
Jean Piaget, noted psychologist,
characterized the early months as the "sensorimotor phase," which aptly
describes the activities of the 1- to 3-month-old child who explores
the world through his or her mouth. The spontaneous, random smile of
the 1-month-old child develops into the socially responsive smile at
around 2 months of age. The baby is learning to recognize familiar
faces and is eager to greet them. The 4-month-old baby is able to
sustain longer periods of social contact and can express a fuller
repertoire of pleasure and displeasure.
From about 6 months of
age onwards, babies begin to develop the Piagetian concept of "object
permanence" (baby has a more fully developed mental image of people and
objects that continue to exist even when the person or object is not
currently visible). A baby knows when parents leave the room, and now
the baby will more actively seek them when they are not present.
wary of unfamiliar people, or of friends and relatives who are not
often seen, typically begins around 8 to 10 months of age. The term
that has been coined for this wariness is "stranger anxiety," and you
may want to warn visitors not to rush to hug the baby, but to give her
time to warm up to them.
As the tension around separation
often intensifies between 6 and 12 months of age, peek-a-boo becomes
the perfect game for playing out some of these feelings. Babies become
excited by the disappearance and reassuring reappearance of a familiar
face. As parents and other important caregivers come and go throughout
the day, it becomes particularly important to let your baby know when
you are going out and that you will come back soon. Sneaking out in the
hope that this will lessen the pain of separation often backfires
(suddenly disappearing may make baby anxious).
From about 8
months on, babies can enjoy learning to play hide-and-seek. You can
hide a small toy under a cloth and watch your baby gleefully snatch
back the cloth to discover the hidden treasure. At around 1 year of
age, a baby will enjoy games that are reciprocal, such as rolling a
ball back and forth with a partner. Babies enjoy pointing to objects of
interest and focusing their parents' attention on an item of interest
- Language Speech and language development in the first
year of life typically follows an orderly progression from grunting and
sucking sounds in the newborn to the emergence of a first word at 1
year of age. By 2 months of age, the baby will listen to voices and is
beginning to coo. A 3- to 4-month-old will pay attention to music and
is beginning to make "ooh" and "ah" sounds. By 6 months, baby will make
single consonant-vowel sounds like "ba," "ma," and "ga," progressing
into multi-syllable babbling by 9 months of age. Around 9 months of
age, babies will begin to say "mama" and "dada" in a non-specific way.
By age one, "mama" really means "mother," and "dada" really means
"father." It is a little easier to say "dada" than it is to say "mama,"
so mothers should not feel rejected if "dada" is uttered first. At
around 1 year of age babies should be using a word to name him- or
her-self, parents, family members, and other caregivers. For example,
something like "ba" for baby. By 1 year, a baby can understand a simple
command when it is accompanied by a gesture, such as "pick up your toy"
or "get your shoes."
- Fine Motor and Adaptive Skills Starting from within the
womb, a fetus has been observed to suck on his or her fingers. A
newborn's hands are typically held closed in tight fists. The
fascination with the hands continues in early life, and beginning
around 2 months of age, babies often enjoy watching as they wave their
fingers. Between 2 and 4 months of age, a baby will relax the hands
more and more. By 4 months of age, babies will actively reach for toys
and hold them. The ability to voluntarily let go of a held object
doesn't develop until close to 12 months of age. An infant will often
eagerly reach for a small item, and once it is captured in that chubby
little hand, it will be "out of sight, out of mind."
months of age, babies can use a raking grasp to pick up a toy, and then
they can pass it from one hand to the other. At this age, babies are
learning how to bring their hands together for midline play. From
around 9 months on, babies are beginning to separate the thumb from the
rest of the fingers. They can pick up an item with a scooping motion
between the thumb and index finger. A 9-month-old child will more
actively explore a toy, turning it over and over and poking it with one
finger. A 9- to 10-month-old child may begin to drink from a cup with
assistance and a 1-year-old child can begin to use a spoon. The major
fine motor milestone that is achieved at around 12 months of age is the
emergence of the mature pincer grasp -- that is, picking up a small
item such as a raisin neatly between the thumb and forefinger with a
- Gross Motor Skills A newborn should move both arms and
legs equally and symmetrically. Newborns typically have a flexed,
curled up position and they like to be swaddled securely. Newborns have
primitive reflexes that usually begin to disappear at around 3 to 4
months of age. One reflex that is very noticeable is the Moro or
"startle" reflex in which the baby's hands will reach out and then will
come back into the body upon a sudden change in the baby's position.
3 months of age, a baby will be able to lift his head and chest up off
a flat surface when lying on his tummy. The American Academy of
Pediatrics recommends placing infants on the back or side when they go
to sleep to reduce the risk of "sudden infant death syndrome." When the
baby is awake, it is good exercise for her to have some tummy time, so
she can strengthen her arms and head and neck muscles. By 4 months of
age, a baby should have good head control when she is pulled up to a
By 6 months of age, a baby should be able to
sit with the hands out in front for support (tripod sitting). The baby
should be sitting unassisted by 8 months of age. By 9 to10 months of
age, a baby is pulling herself up to stand and may be starting to take
some steps holding on (cruising). By the first birthday, a baby can
usually walk with one hand held. About 50% of children can walk without
help by one year of age, and the rest will have learned to walk
unassisted by 16 to 18 months.