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Is my baby falling behind? Dear Miriam.

Byline: MIRIAM STOPPARD

I'm sure many new parents may be worried after reading misleading and alarmist reports claiming that babies who aren't crawling by nine months are doomed to a lifetime of failure.

Please be reassured these claims are nonsense. All babies develop at their own pace - and there is no magic age by which they should gain any particular skill.

Which is why I get angry when I hear how new research from the Millennium Cohort Study of 19,000 children has been widely reported.

Stories have said a nine-month-old who is not yet crawling or picking up objects is more likely to have behavioural problems and struggle at school by five.

To me this just creates yet another worry for anxious parents who may conclude their baby will suffer from development problems if he or she is slow to reach certain milestones.

I'm sure this wasn't the intention of the survey's researchers but it's certainly made for some fear-inducing headlines.

Every baby's different A baby develops more skills in the first year of life than at any other time.

But no two children develop at the same rate, which is why you must never compare your child to another child, or expect them to match specific targets for skills like crawling, walking or talking.

I object to setting strict age guidelines at which a child should develop a certain skill. It's wrong to take a single moment - like nine months - and claim the majority of children should be crawling by this point.

It's better to use a very wide age range for developing any skill. For crawling, this is anywhere from the the sixth month until well into the 10th. That's a big window, which shows how alarmist the current report is. And some babies develop earlier and others develop later - they're all normal. I had a nephew who walked at seven months but some grandchildren were far later. It's no big deal.

Too much pressure I'm not only worried about parents here - damning reports such as this could have a negative impact on a whole generation of children set up for failure from the start.

Setting broad guidelines for development rather than rigid ones can protect babies from pushy parents expecting too much, too soon. I've fought against using "averages" all my writing life, because they bear little relevance to real life and certainly none to the development of an individual child. My chart shows very broad timeframes for developing certain baby skills.

The generation who skipped crawling Another reason this report makes me angry is because it overlooks that, since the late 90s, most babies have bypassed crawling altogether and gone straight from sitting to standing, then walking.

The reason for this change is down to the advice we have given since 1998 that babies should sleep on their backs - not their tummies - to avoid Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (cot deaths).

In order to crawl, babies have to spend a lot of time on their tummies, as it's in this position that their natural curiosity will motivate them to learn to lift up their head and eventually support the upper body on outstretched arms.

This exercise strengthens their arms and is pre-training for crawling.

But now babies are laid to sleep on their backs they generally don't spend enough time on their tummy to develop this skill. But this isn't a problem - it just means they go from sitting to standing to walking - and skip crawling altogether.

They learn, instead, to pull themselves up into a standing position, on sturdy objects nearby, and walking soon follows. And whether babies ever crawl or not, all the evidence suggests they will stand and walk at pretty much the same time.

When is my baby ready? It's important never to push your baby to learn new skills but to go at their pace and encourage them when they're ready with creative play.

Spotting this moment of readiness is not as hard as you think; they'll give you cues and signals that make their intention clear, such as when your baby: Tries to raise his or her head - this is a cue telling you baby is ready for a game that strengthens the neck. Lay them on their stomach to do baby press-ups - raising their head and upper body with their arms.

Blows raspberries at you - this is a cue for games where you imitate noises.

Points with the forefinger - get them to point pictures out in books. Also a sign they'll soon pick up things between finger and thumb and feed themselves.

Starts to pull up into a standing position - always position them near sturdy furniture at hand height, such as chairs or low tables, so they can pull themselves up if they want to.

Once they're comfortable standing they are getting ready to walk, so place furniture about nine inches apart so they can hold on as they cruise round it.

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FOR MORE ON BABY DEVELOPMENT, READ MY BOOK BABY'S FIRST SKILLS, PUBLISHED BY DORLING KINDERSLEY.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 4, 2010
Words:840
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