Don’t Feel Guilty When Your Child Doesn’t Reach Their Milestones

Not all babies hit developmental milestones at the same time, and that's okay. One parent shares how she handled her anxiety around two delayed milestones.

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Being in the “parenting club” comes with certain knowledge. Some of it you uncover for yourself, some of it you read about, and some of it comes from fellow parents and professionals. The knowing look another parent gives you when your child is having a breakdown in the grocery store—that look of Giiiiiirl, been there—that’s parenting knowledge. Learning about safe sleeping—that’s parenting knowledge. 

In the beginning, this can be a little overwhelming. It’s like all of a sudden this vast world of information you never knew you needed in your pre-parent days is suddenly coming at you and it is hard to decipher what is critical, and what is just someone else’s opinion. You quickly discover that, in Baby World, everything seems to be measured by milestones.

As a new parent, you want baby to hit all those milestones on time, if not early, because you know your baby is absolutely perfect. But what if baby isn’t hitting a milestone? Or more than one milestone? The anxiety around this can be stifling, however, if someone hasn’t told you this yet, allow me to be the first—your baby IS perfect, they’re exactly where they need to be, it’s totally fine, and even more so, it is totally normal! 

There is a milestone for almost every week in the beginning and after that…they just keep coming! Some are critical to baby’s development and if your baby is struggling with one of those you should always consult your pediatrician, others aren’t something to stress about.

It sounds cliche because it is true, every baby is different and milestones are meant to serve as a general road map, not the Bible. So, here are two milestones my baby didn’t hit on the mark and how it all worked out in the end.

Teeth

I think one of the most frustrating aspects of being a parent is the lengths we sometimes have to go to to get our children to eat (bonus points if it is something healthy). For me, my daughter came out a picky eater. Breastfeeding was an uphill battle that ended two weeks after her arrival. I remember reading that at six months, teeth would start to appear which generally meant that baby could get a little more adventurous in the food department. 

Around seven months I noticed her teeth had yet to come in however, many of the babies we encountered at our local play groups seemed to have several. As the months ticked on and we got closer to her first birthday I found myself growing uneasy with the fact that her teeth had not sprouted like so many of her peers.

When you become aware (obsessed) of something it seems to follow you everywhere. I swear, during that stretch of time I felt that every time I went on Facebook someone was posting “Jonathan is only eight months but look at these chompers!” or pining at the breast feeding days pre-teeth with their one year old. A co-worker, whose child was born closely to my own, would tell me all the amazing things her son was eating thanks to all his new pearly whites. This was inevitably followed by a question regarding what my daughter was eating and how many teeth she had already. NONE, GEEZ DROP IT! I wanted to yell, but I felt it was prudent not to come off as a lunatic at work.

Someone recommended I try these little cheese doodles that stimulated the gums to start letting the teeth in. I never researched the (possibly lack of) science behind it, but willing to try anything to get her up to speed…and so cheese doodles became a favorite snack. Two teeth were added to the ranks and I thanked the baby snack gods.

After her first birthday her other teeth slowly came in. I breathed a sigh of relief that she was back on track and for the first time I acknowledged how weirdly stressed I had been.

Later, as luck would have it, we would discover her upper lateral incisors were nonexistent in her gums and the adult versions that would normally be behind them are also MIA. Ten years or so from now we will have to make decisions on what to do about that, but that is a worry for another time.

Walking

Baby’s first steps. This is a milestone we all obsess about at some point or another. There is such a build up surrounding those first steps. When did it happen? Where did it happen? Did you video it? Take pictures? I remember seeing a post in a local mommy group how absolutely furious she was with her mother-in-law for encouraging her baby to walk when she wasn’t there and the baby ended up taking her first steps.

I shouldn’t have been surprised that my daughter chose to take her sweet time when it came to walking. While she certainly was capable of crawling she had been slow to actually do it and did it so rarely that sometimes I forgot she could. She was much more content wiggling her way across the floor or, even better, being carried.

Despite this, I had it in my mind that she would be up on her feet for her first birthday. As the weeks crept closer and closer it was apparent that this was not going to happen. I then imagined in the months following, certainly by Christmas, she would be up and at ‘em. The holidays came and went. New Years. Valentine’s Day. I was worried.

People were constantly saying things like “She must be all over the place!” and when I would tell them she had yet to start walking there was always that moment of “oh.” Now, it was typically followed by “Don’t worry, enjoy it! Once she starts she will never stop!” but that didn’t ease the worry I felt. Occasionally the ‘oh’ wasn’t followed by reassurance, but by this feeling of otherness. Once someone said “Well, you do carry her a lot, probably too much.” I should have felt anger at that person (the current version of me is like WTF as I type this), but the new-mom in me at the time felt guilty and couldn’t help but wonder if she was right.

Her pediatrician assured us this was normal, but it honestly felt that every baby we ever knew had started walking before the age our daughter was at. I had set a goal that if she hadn’t started by a year and a half, I would call a specialist. At one year and five months I made an appointment with an early intervention developmental specialist who would come to our house for an evaluation.

The day before the evaluation, Little Miss took her first steps, gleefully going back and forth between my husband and I. The pride and happiness I felt for her in that moment is seared into my brain. I’ll also never forget the date because it also happened to be my birthday. Best. Gift. Ever.

I called the specialist and told them what had happened and they decided to do the evaluation anyway, but as I already knew in my gut, everything was perfect.

In both of these cases, I allowed the progress of others to influence my emotions. I knew logically that it was unlikely my child was going to sprout a tooth right at the six month mark and have a huge pearly white smile by the one year mark, or be a pediatric marvel and start walking before a typical age. But logic doesn’t always rule our heads or our hearts when it comes to our children.

It has been three years and one month since the birth of our daughter and I stand here a much more confident mother. It took those months of unknown and worry and doubt to get me here though. Which is why I hope if you take anything from this it’s that what you are feeling is totally normal. 

Every child reaches those milestones in their own time. While my daughter was slow to walk, she was vastly ahead in her speech. While she didn’t have all her teeth, she slept through the night at an early age. 

Remember, milestones are a road map and sometimes your kid is going to take the scenic route. 

*Note, this information is not to be used as medical advice. Please consult your pediatrician if you have any questions about your child’s development. 

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