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From baby to toddler: 5 stages in your child’s early development

6 minute read

Between the arrival of your newborn baby and their steps into toddlerdom, your first year together should be packed with developmental milestones. An expert in charting that progress, Vhi Consultant Paediatrician Dr. Manoj Parameshwar offers a clear perspective on what you can expect…

Before we talk through these developmental milestones, it’s important to remember that nothing is static. What one baby might do at two months another baby might only do at three months. Some might skip a milestone altogether. One child might sit up and then start walking, rather than crawling! It’s all fine as long as these baby milestones are roughly progressing as they should.

If they miss a milestone here or there? That’s okay. It only becomes significant if they consistently miss a lot of milestones. If you’re noticing that happening, you should contact your paediatrician, GP or Public Health Nurse.

Are timings different for premature babies?

A good question! Developmental milestones relate to what we call the ‘corrected age’, rather than age from birth. If a premature baby is born eight weeks early, and they are four months old, their corrected age will actually be only two months. That corrected age is what matters when it comes to development, which can be broken into five categories:

  • Gross motor skills: big muscles and limb movements
  • Fine motor skills: what we do with our fingers
  • Speech and language: our primary ways of communication
  • Cognitive: our growing intellectual capacity
  • Social and emotional: how we react to people and our surroundings

How does the typical newborn fare in these areas?

A newborn baby is in a completely flexed posture, hands clenched. Basically, all they can do is gaze around on things and then go back to sleep. However, a newborn will be alert to sounds. They will have a startled reflex to noises, while Mum and Dad’s voice will soothe them. They have different kinds of crying, and parents will begin to understand it: “I’m hungry” or “I’m bored, come and talk to me!” It’s totally fine if you can’t differentiate, we all have varying levels of intuition in that regard.

On a cognitive level, your newborn can see a fuzzy image, but not a clear one. They also start bonding with their parents which means they recognise Mum and Dad’s face and voice, and learn to self-soothe and settle down if you let them. These are the first milestones in newborns. Let’s look at the next developmental stages…

Two Months

One big milestone here is when they start cooing, as it really is when the first “speech” begins. They’ll also turn towards sound and follow objects 180 degrees.

Head control comes into play. If you’re holding the baby up, their head should be steady, not falling on their chin or backwards. You won’t have to offer support, which can feel nerve-wracking. The baby will show you what they are capable of. Most of the time, they’re not as frail as you’d think. They’re quite sturdy.

Two-month-olds will develop a preference for a caregiver… Until now, it is mostly the parent bonding with the child. But from this point, the child starts attaching themselves to a parent. The social smile also starts around this period: they’re happy to see their parent and smile back at them.

Four Months

This is a special time when they start exploring people’s faces, especially their parents.

You might see them roll from front to back. If you put the baby on their chest, they can push themselves up and lift their chest off the bed. They will also be able to sit without their head lagging behind and can start reaching out for things and grabbing them with both hands or simply putting them in their mouth to check them out.

Squealing begins – a shrill cry – but also laughing. Laughter demonstrates that the baby is happy. It’s involuntary; they’ve seen or heard something that a parent is doing and it gives them joy. They might even start taking “turns” in conversations. They will coo, stop, wait for Mum or Dad to do some cooing back, then go again.

Six Months

Now, they’re rolling both ways and able to sit up by supporting themselves and transferring objects from one hand to the other.

Babbling starts here – “bababa or mamama” sounds and they begin to understand emotions, like happiness, sadness or pain.

If there’s a six-month-old who is not able to sit up or roll over, not smiling or interacting with people, or is not reaching out for things, you should check-in with your paediatrician or GP to ensure everything is okay.

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Nine Months

At nine months, they are now able to sit without support.

Some babies start to repeat the “pincer grasp” – going at things with a thumb and a forefinger. That’s another big milestone because the baby is telling you “hey, I’m ready for chunky foods!” which means no more purée.

Specific, meaningful words like ‘mama’ or ‘dada’ arrive. They might make these sounds before but aren’t actually attributing it to a person. You may also see them waving goodbye or putting their hands up when they want to be lifted. They can learn to play peekaboo or find a hidden toy. It is also the time when separation anxiety sets in. So they start crying when Mum or Dad leaves their sight.

If they are still not interacting happily with others, through eye contact, facial expressions or hand-and-arm gestures then parents should check things out with a professional. It’s important to remember that every child is different and there can be various explanations for all of these concerns.

One Year Onward

Most babies will be crawling at 12 months. They’ll crawl themselves over to an object, a sofa or a chair, and pull themselves up to stand.

From this point on, they should start to walk with their hand held as well. Some babies even take their first few steps and walk independently.

One-year-olds will begin throwing objects. They’re not trying to tell us anything if they throw food, they’re just fascinated by the fact that it’s no longer stuck to their hand!

Mimicry starts around this time, where they imitate gestures and sounds. They’ll also start pointing at things they want.

If they are not noticing someone new, not playing those simple ‘turn-taking’ games, a lack of babbling or responses to familiar words (like “bottle” or “daddy”), a lack of pincer grasp and early self-feeding, and problems with independent mobility then you should make your medical team fully aware at your one-year check-up.

However, all going well you’ll celebrate your little one’s first birthday with fledgeling signs of true independence and their own unmistakable personality will begin to flourish as you move into their – equally eventful! – toddler years.

This content is for information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek advice from your GP or an appropriate medical professional if you have concerns about your health, or before commencing a new healthcare regime. If you believe that you are experiencing a medical emergency call 999 / 112 or seek emergency assistance immediately.

Meet our Vhi Verified Expert

Dr. Manoj Parameshwar


Consultant Paediatrician

Vhi Paediatric Clinic