Growth and Development Delays: Should You Be Concerned?

Few things drive a new parent into a panic faster than seeing their child fall behind on growth and development. Learn when to worry and when to chill.

Growth and development charts have to be one of the most stressful things ever invented for new parents. I remember when my son was born 8 weeks early I obsessively read every growth and development book out there to make sure he was on the right track. Whenever he missed a milestone, I panicked. I called doctors, experts, family members with grown children. In many cases, I was told to chill out. In some, however, even the experts were concerned.

As parents, we worry constantly about our children. Will they be safe? Will they get into a good school? Get a good job? Marry the right person and give us cute grandkids (and yes, we start thinking about these things before they even come out of the womb!). Some things we’ll never stop worrying about. Knowing when to worry about growth and development delays, however, can help take at least some of the pressure off!

Growth and Development: Is your child seriously delayed or just a little behind?

The first thing you need to determine before you start worrying about growth and development issues is just how far behind your baby really is. Look at it realistically. If the “average” baby starts walking at 9-12 months, and your baby reaches 13 months without taking those camera-worthy first steps, it’s not time to panic. If your baby reaches, say, his second birthday and hasn’t even given any indication that he’s ready to start walking; it’s time to talk to your doctor.

Other factors to consider:

  • Prematurity: If your baby was a preemie, it can take a little longer to catch up. There is no exact rule when it comes to preemies. Some babies born at 32 weeks catch up right away and hit every growth and development milestone right on target. On the flip side, a baby born at 36 weeks could be a good month behind where the charts say he should be.
  • Differences in charts and books. Honestly, there is no “average” baby. All babies are unique, and even the experts vary significantly when trying to determine an accurate pattern of growth and development. For example, when searching for the average age that a baby starts walking, I found results varying from 9 months to 18 months.
  • Your baby’s efforts. If your baby appears to be making the effort to reach a milestone- pulling himself up into a standing position and taking tentative steps while holding on, for example- then there is a good chance he’ll meet it soon, he just needs a little extra time. The time to start worrying a bit is when your baby doesn’t even seem the slightest interest in trying.


Common Growth and Development Delays

Babies and toddlers reach hundreds of different milestones throughout their early years, from rolling over to running after the dog and everything in between. However, there are a few areas that we as parents tend to hone in on when it comes to potential delays. One reason we’re so concerned about these issues is that children who have major delays tend to be more likely targets for bullying and cyberbullying.  These include: speech and language, size, gross motor skills and potty training.

Speech and Language: My son didn’t talk until he was almost three, so I completely understand how it feels to cope with a speech delay. The “average” baby should be speaking about 50 words by age two, but like all growth and development milestones, this can vary a bit. If your toddler hasn’t even made an effort to speak by his second birthday, talk to your pediatrician. There are excellent programs to help, and many are free to parents of all income levels.

Size matters: Just about every visit to the pediatrician ends with the doctor telling you what percentile your child falls into for height and weight. While the growth patterns chart is a great tool for detecting major growth delays, it’s definitely one of the more stressful growth and development charts! First of all, you have to figure out just what it means if your baby falls into, say, the 10th percentile for weight. Does it mean he’s destined to cope with childhood obesity? Not really. It just means that, at that time, he’s a little bigger than 90% of babies his age. If his height is also in the 10th percentile, then he’s also taller than 90% of babies his age, so you have to take both parts into account.

If your child’s doctor isn’t worried, then don’t panic. Just keep an eye on the pattern and see if it changes. My son went from barely even being on the chart to being in the 70th percentile for weight at around 9 months to being at exactly the 50th percentile for both at age 7.

Gross Motor Skills: From rolling over to walking, gross motor skills play a major role in your baby’s ability to move. Delays in this area send more parents running to the phone to call their pediatrician than just about any other area of growth and development. While minor delays are really not a cause for concern, there are a few things you need to watch for. If your baby was walking fine for weeks, then all of the sudden seems to lose that skill, contact a doctor right away. Loss of muscle tone is also a cause for concern, as are rigid muscles.

Potty Training: Visit any parenting community or play date, and you’re sure to find at least a small group of parents talking about whether their child is using the potty. It seems like we, as parents, become poop-obsessed once our kids reach their first birthday. Some even start long before! We put more time and energy into getting our babies out of diapers than we do on getting them to, say, learn their ABCs! While successfully using the toilet is definitely a valuable social skill, if they hold off until their 3rd or even 4th birthday, it’s not going to alter their ability to get into a good college years from now. If you’re rapidly approaching age 5 and your little sweet pea still pees in a diaper, then maybe you should start getting a little concerned.

Bottom line- Babies reach growth and development milestones at their own pace. If they’re just a little behind, don’t panic. If they fall way behind, still, don’t panic. Your pediatrician will recommend the best course of action, and there are plenty of experts out there to help your baby catch up.


7 thoughts on “Growth and Development Delays: Should You Be Concerned?”

  1. My son is below the charts on his speech development and my pedi had us get with a speech therapist. Which is fine but I am glad she is not to pushy and lets him work at his own pace.

  2. Oh man, I remember with my first I was so worried and always checking the milestone dates. Now I’m on my 4th and life is so much more relaxed! LOL. Of course I still work with my youngest and watch for readiness, I know he’ll progress as he’s ready to each stage.

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