First-time mom Debra Sherman, of Chicago, checks a popular baby book each month to make sure 10-month-old Alex's development is on track. So when he got stuck crawling in reverse during the past two months, she knew he was a little late. But she stayed calm.
"It didn't worry me that much," admits Sherman, who says reassurance from other experienced moms, including her own mother and mother-in-law, helped. This past weekend, he took those first creeps forward -- a little late, but no worse for wear.
Parents should give themselves -- and their baby -- some latitude as they track physical and emotional growth in these exciting first months, experts say. It's good to know the milestones, especially if you're a first-time parent, but don't sweat the details.
Tricks of the Infant Trade
"The truth about the average child is that nobody's average," says Dr. Daniel Kessler, director of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at The Children's Center of St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, Ariz. "So parents need to watch their child and their own gut instincts, too."
The most reliable developmental guidelines won't just include the "tricks" your little one will be mastering, like rolling over, crawling or standing. They should also prepare you for your child's emotional and social growth, language development and thinking skills.
But you can't expect progress day-to-day or even week-to-week in all areas. Kids grow in spurts, so as your baby boy becomes fixated on learning to pull himself up to a standing position, for instance, he may not be paying much attention to honing his verbal skills.
"Children seem to be more interested in fulfilling one accomplishment and taking it to its limit before spending a lot of mental energy on some other aspect of development," says Kessler. But, he adds, "That's certainly not a reason to stop feeding their brains with language."
One in a Million
Pediatric guru Dr. William Sears agrees. "Progression, not timing, is what's important," says Sears, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at University of California School of Medicine at Irvine and co-author of "The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby -- From Birth to Age Two," (Little, Brown and Co., $22). "Babies vary greatly in personalities and developmental milestones."
And you can pretty much ignore the daunting array of products designed to jumpstart your tiny tot's development engine, experts advise. A few simple items may help baby advance; see a list recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics: Baby, Let's Play.
But the best thing you can do in these early months is simply get to know your baby and her unique temperament, and give her all the love, closeness and attention you can.
Research shows kids will be more self-assured and smarter for it later on.
Hey, Mom and Dad, Look at Me
"Infants who are held, who have their needs responded to quickly, actually do better, are more self confident, more independent and exhibit greater success in testing," says Dr. Deborah Campbell, director of neonatology at Montefiore Medical Center in New York.
Talking, playing games and establishing daily routines are great ways for your child to learn about the world -- and you.
"Breast-feeding has been a huge bond and a big part of how I connect with him," says Susan Karp of Wilmette, whose son William is 9 months old. "But even looking out the window, going for a walk, or nighttime rituals, like a little bath and reading stories, are good. You don't need to have black and white toys and baby Mozart videos."
He'll Grow Out of It -- Maybe
Some parents may feel silly carrying on a conversation in the grocery store with a 2-month-old, who can only gurgle in reply as you read the nutritional values from a box of Nutri-Grain Bars. But make no mistake about it, kids are sponges, emphasizes Dr. Kessler.
In fact, there's a lot to be said for the good company. "I talk to myself out loud all the time, so it's nice to have the baby as an excuse to not look like a total lunatic," Karp laughs.
If you are concerned that your baby isn't developing the way she should, your doctor should take your worries seriously, says Dr. Kessler. "Too often a pediatrician will say, 'Don't worry, he'll grow out of it,' or 'He'll talk when he's ready,' but reassurance without something real ... addressing the concern ... is misplaced."
Most of the time, those cliches are true: He will grow out of it. But trust your gut and be persistent if you really believe there's a problem.