On the 20th of every month, I open Instagram to a new version of the same post. My nephew, looking adorable as per usual, accompanied by a colourful card that announces how many months old he is that day. At first he was propped up against an oversized plush wolf; now he’s big enough to hold the card in his hands.
Recently, other cards have started appearing in photos in between the monthly markers: Today I rolled over for the first time. Today I tried food. Today I got my first tooth.
As much I love seeing these momentous events marked, I often wonder just how many of these cards my sister has tucked away. When will they run out? How will she document my nephew’s development then?
Charting your baby’s growth goes beyond cutesy milestone cards, of course. There’s the constant doctor’s appointments where bub is measured and weighed. Countless books and online articles that detail the different stages of your baby’s developmental progress. And for digitally minded mothers, one of the most popular apps is the scientifically researched The Wonder Weeks, which guides you through their first 20 months of mental ‘leaps’.
All these resources can be a lifesaver for exhausted first-time parents. They offer an explanation to why your little one is crying, or not sleeping, or not eating. These milestones provide practical reasons for why your baby is fussing – none of which are ‘because you’re just a bad mother’. It’s this underlying anxiety and need for knowledge, I think, which ultimately drives the trend of broadcasting baby milestones on social media.
The flipside of following your baby’s development so closely is the panic you feel when they don’t hit their milestones when they’re supposed to. Sure, your bub not developing at the same rate as the other babies in your mum’s group can cause concern. It may even make you want to help your little late bloomer catch up – after all, what’s the harm in sitting bub up before they can do it themselves?
However, your baby being ‘behind’ doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with them. In fact, there’s an argument to be made for letting them naturally discover their motor skills outside of the traditional milestone timeline.
According to renowned Hungarian paediatrician Dr. Emmi Pikler, babies get both physical and psychological benefits when they are allowed to develop independently. She advocated for an infant’s complete freedom of movement:
‘While learning during motor development to turn on his belly, to roll, to creep, sit, stand, and walk, he is not only learning those movements but also how to learn… This learning process will play a major role in the whole later life of the human being.’
In short: Don’t force the milestones to come. Let nature take its course.
Just like adults they’ll eventually grow up to be, every baby is different. While it’s definitely sensible to make note of your child reaching certain milestones, it’s also important to remember that their development is a unique journey. Rushing the process may not be the best way for your baby to develop.
So it’s fine if your baby doesn’t sit up by themselves until a little later. Just as long as you’re there, cheering them on when they do – with or without a milestone card.
How do you mark your baby’s milestones and development?