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Why Can’t My Baby Do This?

Children achieve milestones at their own pace, so put away the calendar

A new father entered the examining room anxiously clutching his baby in one arm and a book in the other. “The book says at four months he’s supposed to be able to bring both hands to the midline,” he told the doctor. “He’s not doing that.”

Why cant - why can't my baby do this?Dr. Jill Houbé, a developmental paediatrician at Sunnyhill Health Centre in Vancouver, recalls the appointment during her first year in practice. She reassured the young father that developmental milestones – a laundry list of skills that babies usually acquire from month to month – are not preprogrammed by a timer. “There is a wide range of normal,” she says, adding that these milestones should not be the only focus of baby’s first year. She offers this advice:

What to watch for

Most of the developmental markers tend to be related to motor skills, but doctors are also interested in emotional, social and language development. In other words, how does your baby interact with you and her environment? Look for that sense that your baby is aware of other people. This happens visually at first, then with vocalizing and body language.

A second opinion

Assemble your support team. If you feel that in the early days your child isn’t engaging with you, talk to other people. Figure out who you can go to – your doctor, other parents in a support group, a community health nurse or family. Don’t isolate yourself. When it comes to kids, parents are the experts. Trust your instincts. If your baby isn’t reaching out to interesting things or developing head control, take note. But if they’re not raking a Cheerio with their hands at the exact week the books say, don’t panic.

Red flags

Asymmetry can be a cause for concern. If your baby tends to use one side of his body more than the other, bring that to your doctor’s attention. But by and large, kids naturally progress from being kind of floppy to that “classic baby portrait position”.

For a detailed list of month-by month milestones, check out the Canadian Paediatric Society’s Guide to Caring for Your Child from Birth to Age Five (Wiley, 2009) and check out the Related Links below.

Published March 2010

a man carrying two children

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