Authored by Learning Matters for Toy-Yo

The first year of a baby’s life is a momentous one, full of remarkable growth and discovery. It is also an anxious one for many first-time parents. Is my baby developing normally? What should she be doing at this age? How do I know that I’m doing the best for my baby’s optimal development? Am I doing too much or too little? What else should I be doing? Adding to the anxiety is the fact that there is so much variation among babies. A baby may roll over sooner but crawl later, another may walk early but talk a little later. So, how do you know when your little one is doing alright and when to get worried?

What are the developmental milestones in the first year?
The most useful guide for any parent to gauge their child’s development is to be familiar with developmental milestones and the associated timelines. And we hear that term a lot- Developmental milestones but what exactly does it mean?  According to the medical encyclopedia of the US National Library of Medicine, developmental milestones are age-specific behaviours or physical skills that infants and children should be exhibiting as they grow and develop. Child development experts classify the baby development within five broad categories: physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and language development. Let’s talk about each one in a little more detail.

Physical development: What are the milestones to watch out for in physical development?
Your baby outgrows clothes faster than you can buy them. The first year is a period of rapid growth and babies are known to gain four times their birth weight during this time. The physical developments in the first year go beyond just weight gain and growth in size. Most parents will notice their babies develop the basic reflexes like suckling and swallowing in the first month. Eye coordination improves in the next couple of months.
By 4 months, most babies can roll over, unclench their little fists, and straighten their bent legs. This is why it is no longer easy to keep babies swaddled in cloth past the age of 4 months. Your paediatrician is likely to have recommended regular tummy time right after birth. Since infants spend a lot of time on their backs in the early weeks, it is advised to place babies on their tummies for some time every day.  Tummy time develops the natural instinct of babies to hold up their heads to look around which in turn strengthens their neck and shoulder muscles.
By 6-7 months, most babies can sit up unsteadily and begin crawling to get around. Some babies prefer to creep around before starting to crawl. By 9 months, your little one has cut his first teeth and develops his pincer grip to pick up small pieces of finger foods. Around this age, many infants make their first attempt at pulling up with support with some early walkers even taking their first steps now without support.
Most babies learn to walk around their first birthday. As babies reach the 1-year mark, many learn to drink from a cup and use both their hands independent of each other.

Cognitive Development: What goes on in the brain?
Cognitive development is defined as the construction of thought processes, including remembering, analysing, understanding cause and effect, problem solving and decision making, from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. Cognitive ability in newborns includes being able to focus on and track the movement of an object, distinguish pleasant smells from unpleasant ones, recognise and distinguish parents’ voices and increased sensitivity to various other sounds in their immediate environment. Older babies explore by putting things into their mouth and looking for hidden objects. Many babies can imitate actions of caregivers such as smiling, clapping or waving.
When infants receive adequate stimulation, the neural pathways or brain connections get strengthened which help them achieve developmental milestones faster. It has been shown that children with early well-supported cognitive development show better attention spans and motor development, improved memory, and a more responsive nervous system. Scientists have shown that stimulation of the lateral temporal cortex,(the area of the brain right behind the temples) promotes superior language comprehension, semantic memory and general knowledge about the world.

Emotional and Social Development: Baby bonding
Right after birth, babies start bonding with those around them. This is why skin to skin contact immediately after birth is encouraged. Crying babies are immediately soothed when they are held, rocked, and fed. According to developmental psychologist Ann Bigelow, physical contact  promotes brain development, responsiveness, a feeling of security, and better sleep in babies. And it’s not just babies; parents report lowered stress and depression levels due to release of the feel good hormone oxytocin and increased sensitivity to babies’ cues thanks to physical closeness with babies. That explains the warm fuzzy feeling when you hold your bundle of joy! When babies’ needs are promptly met by adults, it sets the foundation for positive lifelong relationships and attachment. Children who feel loved are more confident and show improved learning.
A significant development occurs in babies as they cross the age of 6 months. Babies begin to develop a sense of possession and cry if their toys are taken away from them. Separation and stranger anxieties start to show up, too. By their first birthday, babies also begin to understand different emotions from the tone of voices around them. Positive relationships and experiences with caregivers lead to babies being content, calm, and happy. This, in turn, allows babies to grow and develop well.

Language Development: What is my baby saying to me?
Newborn babies express themselves by crying when hungry, tired, or uncomfortable. They typically calm down when their needs are met. As they grow older babies start to express themselves in many more ways. They begin to recognise the faces of their regular caregivers and will respond by cooing, gurgling and smiling. They also respond by turning in the direction of voices, imitating sounds made by adults, and pointing at objects they want. Some early speakers may even learn to say words such as Mama and Papa although the majority of children produce such sounds well past their first birthday. Most babble incoherently and attentive parents and caregivers are able to understand this baby language.
Babies usually respond to queries such as, “Do you want this?”, by reaching out for the object shown or crawling or moving towards it. By the age of 8-9 months, babies associate specific objects with specific needs such as reaching out for their cup or bottle to indicate they are hungry or thirsty, tugging at their diaper to indicate they need a change, and bringing you a ball to indicate that they want to play. Older babies are also able to indicate whether they want to be picked up by clinging to your ankles or holding up their arms and squirming in your arms if they want to be set down. These set the basis for language development especially if the caregiver responds to such actions by describing what the child is asking for and doing.
And what when you’re raising bilingual or multilingual children? Some parents wonder if their baby will be confused if he is exposed to more than one language at the same time. Turns out that such fears about multilingualism are unfounded. Decades of research shows that babies are able to cope with and respond positively to exposure to multiple languages. However it is important to ensure that children get sufficient exposure to the language they are expected to be proficient in. So how does multilingualism benefit children?