When I started this blog ten years ago I was most
interested in issues for infants and toddlers, and that remains my “first love”.
In recent years I have gotten into the morass of “parental alienation” concerns
and I have been spending a lot of time writing about that topic for
However, I know there is still a need for discussion
of baby matters, because I frequently get personal emails from young parents
who are worried about whether their babies are developing normally. Many of
them are terrified that some developmental glitch (as they see it) means
autism. Others are just generally frantically worried about everything.
If people are worrying a great deal because of their
own anxiety and depression following the birth of a baby, giving them
information can only briefly reduce their anxiety. In those cases, they (and I
mean, You, if you are like this) need to find someone to talk to and get some
support and help as they work through this stage of life. Nowadays,
obstetricians are supposed to screen patients for perinatal mood disorders (AKA
postpartum depression) and to provide them with referrals for help. Not all do
this—but if they do not, nevertheless they are the first line of help for
patients who can bring themselves to ask for it.
For other people—ones who are only worried because of
something they saw or read—just getting some better information can be helpful.
Here are some thoughts about infant development that might save some people
VARIABILITY: Babies do not read the child development
books or follow those milestones exactly! Here’s the deal. The age given as
appropriate to a “milestone” like sitting unsupported is an average drawn from
hundreds of babies. It’s a piece of arithmetic that produced that average from a
long list of numbers. It might well be that no baby whose age at sitting was
listed actually sat alone at the age that is calculated to be the average.
Development is variable, with about half of babies doing something later than
the average and the other half doing it earlier. How much later or earlier?
That’s the question, and you will not be able to figure this out easily from
most books you can get. There is a normal range of ages at sitting alone (or
whatever) and all you need to know is that your baby is within that. There are
no prizes given for earliest independent sitting or anything else. Yes, of
course it is troubling and perhaps a problem if a skill is achieved very late,
but if you are getting regular well-baby care that will be picked up.
Please note also that a particular baby can be early
on one achievement and late on another. Some people have thought that those who
walk early talk later and vice versa, but I don’t know if that’s really true.
Certainly they seem to put one development on hold while they work on another
one for a while.
SUPINE versus PRONE: When my children were babies, I
and all the other parents put them down to sleep on their tummies (prone
position). We were told this would prevent them from choking if they spat up. In the late 1990s, some not very good research
was interpreted to mean that all babies should be put down on their backs
(supine position) to prevent SIDS. The baby’s sleeping position helps to
determine the order in which muscles get stronger and come under control. Lying
prone makes it easier to develop head control and strengthen arms and
shoulders. Lying supine slows those achievements.
The list of milestones you see was developed when
babies usually lay prone. The milestones that are listed as associated with
particular ages are those that occur for babies who spend most of their time in
prone. The list of ages and milestones is not the same for babies who spend
their time supine. You probably put your baby in supine, as you have been told
to do, and you probably don’t do much tummy time because the baby fusses when
you do and you are afraid he or she will die right before your eyes from SIDS!
We do not at this time have a good list of ages and
milestones for supine-lying babies. All I can tell you is, don’t panic when you
see your baby is not doing what the list derived from prone babies says should
EYE CONTACT: I am sure you don’t gaze into other
peoples eyes every chance you get. You look at another person, look away, even
use your eyes to point out something you want the other person to look at. Babies
don’t gaze into eyes much, either, and they do it when they feel like it.
Nursing babies under 6 months usually shut their eyes and get on with the job.
Older nursing babies often put their hands to the mother’s face, poke a finger
up her nose, and generally look her over. Those photographs you see in
advertisements, where a beautiful nursing mother is gazing into her baby’s eyes
in a charming room with nice curtains and all–
I just wonder how many shots it took the photographer to get that
Eye contact with very young babies (under perhaps
three months) is complicated by a lot of things. They are often not fully awake
unless they are upright. They cannot see things that are very close to their
faces. They need bright light to see well, and if your face is in shadow as you
bend over them, they don’t really see you. What’s more, just like you, they don’t
do everything they can do, every time they get a chance to do it.
By the way, a young blind baby may appear to be making
eye contract just in response to hearing a voice, so you really can’t always
tell hat’s happening.
Does your baby of more than three months seem to be
interested in people or pets and look at them more than at inanimate objects? That’s
what you really want to know.
I am hoping these
thoughts may help a little—but then parenthood is really about worrying—let’s
just try not to let it get too uncomfortable, because that causes trouble for parents and babies alike.