Infant Development & Parenting Articles & Resources

Catrina Cowart
Last updated:
Erin L. George, MFT
Erin L. George, MFT
Medical editor

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What Is Infant Development?

As an infant grows, they develop in a number of ways. For example, they learn about the things around them, develop better eyesight and learn to focus, and get better control over their gross motor skills to reach and grasp objects. In terms of language, babies learn to babble, and they begin to listen to and understand the people around them. All of this active learning and skill building falls under the umbrella of infant development. (1)

When a child learns a new skill, they reach a "milestone." Milestones include activities and actions such as learning to play or standing up. Not all children follow the same trajectory, so some will develop skills faster than others or in a different order. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other medical providers have established these developmental milestones to serve as general guidelines for parents and other caregivers.

There are many stages of development in the first several years of a child's life, but the infant development stages are those that occur within the first 12 months. During this time, there are cognitive and brain developments, as well as developments in the child's social and language skills. Children even develop some recognition of danger, which can lead to anxiety in these early months. (4) Fortunately, parents can take steps to guide their children and make their development go more smoothly.

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Infant Development Stages

Infant development stages are broken up into 3-month segments. Parents need to keep an eye on their children during those periods to see if they reach the typical milestones on time. If they don't or if their skills decline, it's important to speak with a pediatrician to check for underlying issues. (2)

The development periods include: (3)

    • Months 1 through 3
    • Months 4 through 6
    • Months 7 through 9
    • Months 10 through 12

During each of these periods, there are specific tasks and skills that an infant should develop. If they don't, the child may need to see a pediatrician to determine whether there's a cause for concern. Causes for delays and slower-than-normal development could range from genetic conditions to normal variations in skill development. Early recognition of delays could help get a child into occupational or physical therapy treatments to get them back on track. (4)

Infant Brain Development

During the first 12 months of a child's life, their brain develops quickly. Some common skills and developments to look for in that first year include: (3)

  • Learning to focus vision
  • Developing a stronger memory
  • Developing reasoning and thinking skills
  • Beginning to develop language
  • Developing motor skills
  • Cooing
  • Pushing up
  • Moving the head from side to side
  • Rolling over
  • Scooting
  • Crawling

For example, babies may track objects with their eyes and begin to mirror a parent's smile within the first 3 months.

Infant Language Development

Language development in infancy starts with babbling, which is when an infant learns to say certain words, such as "mama," or "dada." Babies develop language throughout the first year, but parents can expect babbling to begin by months 4 through 6. (3)

During months 4 to 6, babies also begin to laugh and understand more about the world around them. From months 6 to 9, it's normal for babies to respond "no" to questions or in response to something they don't want to do. Most babies can speak one to three full words by a year old.

Parents can help improve language development by regularly talking, reading, and singing to their babies and showing their babies their mouths when forming sounds.

Infant Cognitive Development

Infancy cognitive development refers to brain development, as well as how a child understands the world around them. Some cognitive developments happen early (within the first 1 to 3 months), such as reaching or swiping for dangling objects or opening and shutting the hands. Other developments happen later, such as grabbing objects and having better head control (4 to 6 months). (3)

A baby's cognitive skills get more refined as time passes, so by the twelfth month, the infant should be able to say a few words, point at objects they want, copy actions seen around them, and begin to take their first steps.

Infant Social Development

Infancy social developments refer to how an infant interacts with those around them. Early on, an infant can't see well and may not have an understanding of questions or actions, but by the 1-year mark, most infants can play games, pretend to use the phone, mimic their parents, and express food preferences. (3)

Developments parents can expect to see as their children grow in the first year include:

  • Responses to other people's expressions
  • Reaching for mom or dad or another favorite person
  • Playing simple games, such as peekaboo
  • Smiling in response to happy or funny acts
  • Dropping spoons or food for a reaction
  • Developing some stranger anxiety

For developmental milestones such as stranger anxiety, parents can help by sitting with their children during interactions and slowly introducing new people or animals over time. Staying positive and calm helps reduce the stress of a new situation. (5)

Activities for Infant Development

Infants need interaction to help with their development. There are lots of ways to interact, but one of the key forms is through positive parenting.

Positive parenting is an approach that helps with infant development. A few activities to try with a child while using positive parenting skills include: (1)(2)

  • Praising a child for doing something new
  • Spending time cuddling
  • Talking to the baby
  • Playing a variety of music
  • Singing to the baby
  • Reading to the baby
  • Playing with the baby, taking breaks when they're fussy
  • Letting the child explore new age-appropriate toys
  • Encouraging interaction with new people and things

All these activities are helpful as a child grows and develops, so switching between them is a good idea. Interaction with a child is only one factor involved in development. Children may also develop sooner if they get enough sleep. For infants, it's normal to get anywhere from 12 to 16 hours of sleep each day. (1)

Parents should always keep in mind that every child is different and will develop at their own pace.  Avoid comparing children to their siblings or their playmates or viewing developmental milestones as any kind of contest or race. That said, if a parent is concerned about their child's development, the best thing they can do is reach out to their pediatrician for a full assessment and possible referrals.