You may be worried if your baby isn’t walking “on schedule” but your pediatrician isn’t. Photo: Corbis Images.
While you may silently panic if your child doesn’t hit that walking or talking milestone according to that handy chart you found online, chances are your pediatrician isn’t worried. That’s because doctors aren’t checking developmental markers off some master baby list. They’re looking at the broader picture — namely, that your child is progressing from stage to stage, however quickly or slowly. “We look for continued progress,” Julie G. Capiola, MD, clinical instructor and pediatrician at NYU Langone Medical Center’s Department of Pediatrics, tells Yahoo Parenting. “It’s gotten harder for parents who sign up for baby newsletters and will get those milestone alerts. And they will come into their pediatrician’s office and say their four month old isn’t reaching for objects. We’re looking for advancement. Don’t stress.”
To further allay your fears, here’s a look at six common developmental milestone myths:
Myth 1: Your baby should be crawling by 6 months.
Crawling helps strengthen the upper body and stretches the ligaments in the hands and wrists, which help improve fine motor skills later on. But some babies don’t reach this stage until nine months (or later). And not all babies crawl in the classic sense — some scoot around on their tushies, do an army crawl (using their upper body to drag themselves forward), or roll across the floor to get around instead—all of which are totally fine. Some babies even skip the crawling stage altogether. “There are plenty of babies who never crawl,” says Capiola. “Some go straight to [cruising and/or] walking.”
Myth 2: “Early walker, late talker.”
The saying is certainly catchy, but there isn’t a correlation between these two big developmental stages, notes Capiola. “A lot of people think that if a child is focusing so much on advancing skills in one particular area, such as gross motor skills, that they can’t utilize the part of their brain that’s developing their speech center. But that’s not statistically the case.” In other words, these stages are apples and oranges, so developing early in one area doesn’t trigger a delay in another one.
Myth 3: Boys talk later than girls.
While it’s true that some boys can be a few months behind girls in terms of first words and sentences, most boys talk within the normal milestone timeline. “With speech development, there’s a huge range of normal,” says Capiola. “Even if some boys may take longer statistically speaking, they’re not more delayed than girls.”
Myth 4: Your baby should make eye contact by eight weeks old.
Meeting your gaze is a sign of neurological development, while a lack of eye contact can be an early indicator of a problem, such as autism. But not all babies fall on that eight-week timeline—some may not make noticeable eye contact until they’ve reached three months old. It’s also easy to miss the subtle signs that a baby has made eye contact because it can be surprisingly quick. “You want some brief acknowledgement of your presence, but it doesn’t have to be this back and forth looking at you or staring into each other’s eyes,” explains Capiola. “We ask parents during checkups, ‘when you face your baby, does he or she look at you, even if only for a little while?’ The answers can be no, a little, or yes, and a little is acceptable.”
Myth 5: Children who are toilet trained before 2 years old are “advanced” or more intelligent.
Although it may feel like a major achievement to have potty trained your toddler before he or she has turned 2, it isn’t a sign of intelligence (sorry). It’s both about having an awareness and control of bodily functions and — as any parent of a toddler can attest — a matter of will. “Toilet training isn’t just about the ability to pull down pants, go on potty, and saying you have to pee or poo,” says Capiola. “Part of it is personality.” It’s also worth noting that research shows potty training too early has some downsides. A 2014 study found that toddlers who start toilet training before 2 years old are three times more likely to have problems with daytime wetting, as well as constipation, later on. Researchers note it’s because they’re more likely to hold their urine or stool. “In my practice, it’s often the children who trained earliest and most easily who end up with the most severe voiding problems,” lead author Steve Hodges, M.D., an associate professor of pediatric urology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center tells ScienceDaily.
Myth 6: Babies should be talking at 12 months.
Although you may be waiting with baited breath to hear it, parents shouldn’t stress too much if their baby hasn’t uttered “mama” or “dada” by their first birthday. Research shows that even 2-year-old late talkers can catch up in many cases. University of Western Australia researchers tested the vocabulary of more than 1,300 2-year-olds until they reached the age of 17. Ones who were late talkers (falling below the 15th percentile for their age and gender) were more likely to have emotional and behavioral issues — likely, because they were frustrated with their limited ability to communicate — but those psychological and language issues didn’t last. Eventually, the late talkers were on par with children who talked earlier.
Capiola suggests looking for babbling and receptive language, such as if you ask them, “Where’s your bottle?” or “Where’s Mommy?” If they look for that object or person, they understand what you’re saying even if they can’t yet answer you back.