Being aware of your baby’s milestones and leaps will save you a lot of worry and stress, as you are able to anticipate and meet their needs. Remember that a baby grows more (physically and neurologically) in their first year, than any other year of their life!
I didn’t even know what a milestone was with my first kid until he was close to a year old; no one told me about it, and it would have helped me so much with my first baby! And leaps? Forget about it! (Oh if I only knew then what I know now, right?).
This text is designed to help parents and caregivers navigate the rough waters of baby development. Awareness of leaps and milestones allows parents to guide their infant through all of the changes, regressions, and new skills which each leap presents.
Note: This was originally one of my mini-eBooks for sale on Amazon. I chose to pull it and post it here (for free) instead, though it can still be found as one of the components in my complete Fourth Trimester publication.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, nor is this content intended to be your sole source of information. Please always consult your primary medical practitioner with any questions or concerns.
What is a milestone?
A milestone is a specific skill or behavior which your baby masters at certain times. For example, a major milestone is that Baby usually learns to crawl around 9 months old. There is a vast list of commonly accepted milestones, from Baby holding their head up, to rolling front to back and back to front, to saying “Mama.” Your pediatrician uses these universal guidelines for milestones and development to ensure that your baby is growing as they should, both physically and mentally.
If you are aware of what milestones are coming up for your baby, you can look for those new behaviors and even practice their new skills with them!
What is a leap?
Simply put, a leap is a growth spurt; however this doesn’t just address physical growth. Your baby goes through a series of developmental milestones, grouped into leaps, within certain time frames. Your baby will exhibit certain behaviors at the start of a leap, during a leap (which can last for 5 days or more), and will exhibit new skills and mannerisms after a leap is complete. Think of a leap as a growth spurt… For your body and mind.
Sometimes a leap will coincide with a physical growth spurt, but not always. Interestingly, the leap also parallels a growth spurt of the brain itself, and you will notice your baby’s head seems larger after the leap is complete. Cool, huh?
A leap is determined by how many weeks old the baby is. However, it’s based on the date of conception and the original due date, not the actual day your child was born; if your child is a premie or a twin, their development may fall on a different schedule. A full-term baby’s brain is developmentally different than a baby born at 33 weeks, for example.
So let’s review: a milestone is a specific skill that your baby will learn to do during a leap, which is a time period in which your baby goes through significant mental and neurological growth.
How do I know when my baby will go through a leap?
I follow the Wonder Weeks religiously. The Wonder Weeks is the comprehensive guide and schedule of leaps and developmental growth, which has been compiled by Dr. Frans Plooij. There is a book and an app, and they are invaluable as you navigate leaps along with your baby!
In total, there are 10 leaps which your baby will go through in their first year. Like learning to read, each leap builds on the skills from previous leaps. As a child learns new behaviors or abilities, they continue to develop them over time and with practice. The WW has a name for each leap: for instance, the first (occurring at 4.5-5.5 weeks old) is called “Changing Patterns.”
If you’re like me, you’ll know exactly how many weeks, days, hours and minutes old your baby is at any given minute. (I know this can annoy non-new moms, but you’re hopefully starting to see why it’s so beneficial to know!). And yes, you’ll want to keep track of Baby’s age in weeks, not months.
The Wonder Weeks lets you know when your baby is due to start the leap, based on how many weeks old they are. That estimation is the earliest time you would possibly notice the leap starting; in other words, they tell you that the next leap is due to start at 12 weeks, but your baby may not show signs of it until 12 1/2 or 13 weeks.
To continue with the leap I mentioned earlier, “Changing Patterns,” here is what the Wonder Weeks has to say in summary:
“Everything indicates that, during this leap, your baby is experiencing a rapid maturation of metabolism, internal organs, and senses. She is clearly more interested in the world around her and is now better able to look at things beyond the range of 20 to 30 centimeters. As a parent, you notice that she is suddenly responding more to you and to others. Interesting note: your baby produces tears while crying for the first time or much more frequently than before.”
I regularly see people recommending the Wonder Weeks on the various forums and Facebook groups that I frequent. For example, women worried about losing their breastmilk supply (“my baby is suddenly nursing all the time!” around 6 weeks old) take comfort when they’re told that this is the start of the first major leap. In particular, the affect that a leap can have on sleep can be disturbing and stressful for new parents. This article goes into more detail in regards to the wonder weeks and sleep.
Knowing when your baby is heading into a leap will help you navigate through it with them. You’ll learn about the new skills your baby will be learning, and will be given suggestions as to what to look for. This information is so reassuring! It helps you feel that you’re not crazy and that there’s nothing wrong with your baby.
How can I help my baby during a leap?
The biggest thing you can do for your child is to tend to their needs as much as possible. They will be more clingy and fussy than normal, will want to nurse more often, and may not sleep as well. It’s not a regression per se, but it can sure feel like it. This can be time consuming and taxing on new parents, physically and emotionally.
Be patient with your baby. When they’re going through this needy phase (especially early on in the leap), do what you need to do so that you can best take care of your baby. If that means that you call on a loved one to help you around the house, or have them hold the baby so that you can take a break, so be it. I’ll also take this opportunity to suggest babywearing so that you can keep Baby close to you, without feeling trapped or tied down in a chair.
If you’re breastfeeding, this will also mean that your baby will want to comfort nurse… a lot. I know that it can be time-consuming, and you feel like an enslaved milk cow, but think of it this way: not only are you allowing your baby to suckle, which calms them and lets them rest, but it’s also really helping your milk supply! Don’t feel guilty about binging Netflix and lounging on the couch so that you’re comfortable and relaxed while your baby nurses.
This is difficult to bear sometimes, trust me I know! But it is so much better to have an idea of when these leaps are starting, so that you can prepare for your baby to need you more than normal.
What if my baby isn’t reaching leaps on time?
This is really a conversation to have with your pediatrician; however, go to them with as much information as possible.
You’ll want to take your copy of the Wonder Weeks (even just having your baby’s profile set up on your phone will suffice) so that you can show the doctor where you’re at in the leap calendar. Try to be as specific and factual as possible: could your baby show the skill? What was their success rate (how many times out of ten)? How long were they able to demonstrate the skill?
Video or photo are also great tools to show evidence of any concerns. If you have something to show the pediatrician which helps demonstrate what your baby’s doing (and why you’re worried), it can be massively helpful.
Remember that the end goal is to document any fear you may have that your baby isn’t meeting their milestones. This could result in testing (either now or when the child is older), or the pediatrician could be confident that nothing is amiss. Like everything else with your baby’s health though, it’s better to bring up your concerns now and have these conversations.
Your pediatrician will probably give you some homework: activities to do at home with your baby, a list of milestones they want you to work on, or “red flags” to keep an eye out for.
If at any point you feel that something is seriously wrong, call your pediatrician or go to the hospital. Don’t wait and don’t be afraid that the doctor will be annoyed, or that you’re being paranoid. Better to be safe than sorry.
Milestones show that your baby is growing stronger and more brilliant by the day! It’s fascinating to read the research which has been done about developmental leaps, and I encourage you to actively be involved in the growth of your child.
Keep track of the milestones your baby has reached with photos, scrapbooking, or posts on social media. You could even create a free email account for your baby, and start writing now! You won’t want to miss this opportunity to capture these precious moments. Your baby grows more in their first year than any other year of their life, and take it from me: it’ll be over before you know it!
I sincerely hope that this has been helpful to you, and that you’ve learned something! I appreciate positive feedback and I love hearing from parents who have read my work! Please say hello, let me know how you are doing, and if you have any suggestions for future content.