When Your Baby or Toddler Misses Milestones

Baby crawling towards mother, meeting developmental milestones

December 01, 2022

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Eileen A. Dolan, M.D.

Watching your young child learn and grow can be exciting and rewarding—their first smile, first words or first steps. But what does it mean when a milestone isn’t hit on schedule? 

Our pediatrician explains what range is considered normal, what may be cause for concern and when to bring it to your doctor’s attention.

What Is a Milestone? 

“A developmental milestone is when your baby or toddler learns a new skill,” says Eileen A. Dolan, M.D., developmental/behavioral pediatrician at Hackensack University Medical Center. Doctors, teachers and others who specialize in child development measure a child’s growth progress by comparing their milestones to when most other children adopt specific skills.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have established milestone trackers for children from 2 months to 5 years of age. Each time you take your child to the doctor for a well visit, the doctor should review these milestones with you to ensure that your child is healthy and thriving. 

The CDC and AAP recently revised their developmental milestones to take a more proactive approach in identifying developmental delays and autism in children, so that these conditions are diagnosed and addressed as early as possible and treatment and early interventions can begin.

What Is Developmental Delay? 

If a child misses a milestone, it is clinically referred to as developmental delay. Since developmental delays can’t be diagnosed with a lab test, doctors use milestones to look for early signs of any conditions or problems.

“If a child is showing signs of developmental delay, the earlier it is identified, the better,” says Dr. Dolan. “That way, if a delay is discovered, the child can be provided with extra help in the form of therapy or other interventions to ensure their needs are met and they reach their full potential.” Services can include speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy and assistive technology.

When Missing a Milestone Is Probably OK

On the other hand, perhaps due to the digital information age and our ability to search online quickly and easily for health information, parents today tend to get anxious if their child doesn’t exactly nail every benchmark of progress.

“It’s important to remember that milestones are averages and every child is unique,” says Dr. Dolan. With many baby and toddler milestones, there are broad ranges for when a child learns to crawl, walk, potty train, talk, read and so on. A missed milestone may not necessarily be a red flag, so parents and other caregivers should try to take everything in stride and let their pediatrician or family doctor guide them in the right direction. 

When to Be Concerned

“As the primary caregiver, you know your child best, so if your baby or toddler misses a milestone, it’s best to bring up any concerns with your pediatrician or family doctor sooner rather than later,” says Dr. Dolan. 

Your doctor will listen to your concerns and further assess your child to dig into what’s going on. If there is a problem, your doctor will help provide a diagnosis, treatment options and other support. 

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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