After Pregnancy: What Dads Need to Know about Developmental Delays

By Mathew Miller, Sharon Perkins

Many new moms and dads keep baby books that chronicle their baby’s progress and eagerly await each milestone: the first smile, the first step, the first word. When milestones aren’t met when books say they should be or when your friends’ babies are meeting them but your baby isn’t, doubt, concern, frustration, and a cold fear may begin to creep into your days.

Moms are usually the first ones to recognize a problem, so if your partner voices concerns, don’t belittle them, even if the baby seems fine to you. Verbalizing fears about your baby’s development takes a lot of courage.

When babies are very young, physical milestones are very important. Babies, after all, don’t dazzle you with their small talk or charm you with their recitation of The Iliad. If they lift up their head, it’s a big deal.

Rolling over for the first time merits phone calls to relatives all over the country, and the first gurgle — the one that startles the baby almost as much as it does you — earns your undivided attention for the next hour as you try to catch a command performance on video.

If your baby isn’t keeping up with the other babies on the block (whether in your mind or in fact), discuss your concerns with your doctor. He may tell you that all babies are different and that you’re making yourself crazy. Or he may nod and take notes, which is really frightening, because even when you know something’s wrong, having someone else verify it makes it all too real.

Before you call in the cavalry because you suspect that your baby isn’t meeting developmental milestones, take a deep breath and consider the following facts:

  • Babies really do develop at different rates. Milestones happen at an average age, and an average is just that: 50 percent of babies achieve the goal at a younger age, and 50 percent don’t meet it until they’re past that age.

  • Babies all have different abilities. Some are more physically oriented; others are more verbally inclined. Because physical milestones are all you have to go on at a young age, children who will shine verbally later but who will never make the track team — or pass through the kitchen without tripping over the linoleum — may seem to be behind early on, even if they’re really not.

However, talk to your doctor if your baby doesn’t meet the following milestones:

  • Turns her head in the direction of a voice or sound shortly after birth

  • Smiles spontaneously by one month

  • Imitates speech sounds by three to six months

  • Babbles by four to eight months

If your baby does have developmental delays, she’ll need your help — and possibly the help of medical professionals such as physical therapists — to achieve normal milestones. Getting help early is the best thing you can do for her.