Monday, November 28, 2011

Baby "Milestones" are Stupid

I received a message from one of my former students today in distress over her family comparing her baby to her sister's baby, who is just two weeks younger. I have a feeling a lot of us can relate to this.

"I'm starting to receive concern from family members about Ellie being slow to hit milestones. She is a happy, alert, curious baby, but she does not sit unassisted yet, and she is nowhere near crawling. She is 7 1/2 months old. Of course all the concerned people are trying to figure out why she is "delayed" and pointing fingers at: too much breastfeeding, lack of solid food, the fact that she doesn't sleep in her own room or know how to "self-soothe," or the fact that I carry her too much.

I doubt everyone would be so concerned, except that Ellie is being directly compared to her cousin (my sister's baby) who is exactly 2 weeks younger. He has been sitting and crawling for weeks, and now he is starting to pull up on furniture to a standing position. He is formula-fed, started solids at 4 months, and was trained to sleep in his own crib (in his own room). My sister is also careful not to pick him up "too much" so as not to "spoil" him. So those methods now look more successful than my methods.

Anyway, I just wondered if you had a blog post about this (or maybe if you wanted to write one!), or if you had any other info about it, so that I could send a link or something to the relatives that are bugging me."

Give that boy a ribbon!  Oh wait, the ribbon goes to the mom, right?

When my first baby was little, I remember comparing him to every baby that was remotely close to his age.  The only thing he did "early" was sit up.  He was 5 months old and fat as could be.  He looked like a bowling ball.  I think that is the only reason he did sit up!  I was so relieved when he got his first tooth at 9 months.  He finally started crawling at 10 months.  In fact, my earliest crawler was 9 months.  Of four children, my earliest walker was 13 months.

As you could probably guess, my babies, like this mama's baby, were all carried extensively in the sling.  I was constantly talking to them.  They were learning language and engaged in all kinds of  activities they otherwise probably wouldn't have been from a stroller or car seat.

I have read -- and maybe this was made up by someone who wanted to make parents of "slow" babies feel better -- that babies who do things later tend to be soaking up more around them.  They tend to speak sooner and often more clearly.  I do think that when they are engaged in whatever activity their caregiver is engaged in, they are preoccupied.  When they are left "alone" they find ways to occupy themselves, often finding out what their body can do.  This is so not true of some babies and I'll probably incite a riot with that statement.   Babies who do things early are more focused on doing than learning.   Like I said, I have no idea if that has any merit whatsoever.  As we all know, babies are all so different.  They do things when they are ready.

I was concerned about one of my kids being dyslexic when she was small.  I took her in and they wouldn't even give me the time of day.  They said at that age  -- she was about pre-K -- the spectrum was enormous.  They said by 3rd grade that gap narrows significantly. 

I've always felt like, who cares if one kid can read at 4, or crawl at 6 months, or eat solid food at 4 months, or walk at 12 months!  It doesn't mean they are smarter or better than the next kid.  It also doesn't mean that you are a better mom!  Once they are talking, walking, feeding themselves, swinging on the swings, playing tag on the playground, playing video games, Facebooking with their friends, and downloading music on their ipod, no one cares about these milestones.  It's like due dates.   40 weeks is an estimated time of arrival.  As we know, it means little. 

Ultimately, those milestones, in my opinion, are kinda stupid.  I think a mom knows when something is not right.  Those milestones, like fetal kick counts, make a mom super paranoid, almost always unnecessarily.  If you do feel that something is not quite right, visit with your pediatrician about your concerns.  Follow your gut, but not what the kid next door is doing!  Don't compare your baby with other babies.  For that matter, don't compare your teenager with other teenagers!

A couple of years ago I had to tell one of my students to put the books away and just focus on her baby.  She was making herself crazy with all the things her baby should be doing, or parenting exactly the way the book said was the right way.  At some point, you have to just look at you, your kid, and your situation and do what works for your family.  Some things sound great in a book but just don't play out that way in your real life.  I experienced this quite a bit with my babies. 

As for my former student's message?  I feel bad for the other kid.  He's not getting breastmilk, he's choking down solid food, not getting held nearly as much as his cousin, and he sleeps alone.  Follow your instincts, Mama!  You are doing a fabulous job.  And your baby is so lucky to be parented with so much love.

For the record, none of my kids read at the age of 4, but they all read now.


Laura: The Sushi Snob said...

I know a formula-fed, sleep-trained baby who is eight months old and is just now showing signs that she will be crawling soon.

On the other hand, my nephew who just turned one, was nursed, worn to some extent, not sleep trained, started walking just before his first birthday.

It depends on the baby, really.

Susan Skok Martin said...

I totally second to look only to your child and don't compare. I breastfed with no pacifiers or bottles, carried my babes all the time and co-slept with both my girls. They both accomplished their "milestones" at different times (they are 4.5 years apart). One child never crawled at all (no exaggeration here!) but walked right at her first birthday. The other crawled until 16 months and then decided to try walking. They were both unique individuals.

Milestones are just part of an average or continuum. Let's say the average age to marry is 26 (I have no idea what it really is, but let's just say) Did you all get married at 26? I didn't - I was thirty. I bet there is a wide variety of timing. Our children are individuals and will do things in their own time. We don't have to force them to do anything (except maybe brush their teeth!)

My girls are now 13 and 9 - they are lovely human beings full of love and compassion. Eager learners. And well liked and admired for who they are as people. This is not because I am some awesome parent, I just listened to and followed their unique needs. I am a firm believer in trusting your child and I think the long-term results are absolutely incredible in terms of self-confidence and self-knowing for your kid.

Samantha said...

Blah, I also dislike how our society is all about "bigger, better, faster, sooner". It means nothing!! We have learned this countless times and yet, we STILL have to consciously tell ourselves to stop's hard, I know! Babies are different, we know this, and yet, we feel we have to keep up with 'Baby Jones'. We fail to recognize that 'Baby Jones' is fatter because he's overfed on formula, get's sicker much more often, is at risk for childhood and adult obesity because he was started on solids before he was ready and has trust issues with his mom because she thought that at 6 months, a baby can use plain logic and understand why mommy isn't picking him up.

Compare? No thanks. I do the best for my baby and let him learn at his own pace. In the end, the healthy babies will show their true colors.

Kristi said...

My baby scooted at 3 months, crawled at 5 months and walked at 10 months. She's breastfed, I held her ALL the time, I didn't do CIO, etc...she's been really healthy, but she's always been really tiny. She still wakes up one a night to nurse. (18 months) I think she's smart and taking everything in. She's just...a baby....and she's doing what babies do. She's fine. I'm sure any other babies I have will be completely different, though I will breastfeed, hold a lot, not CIO every single one of them.

Aleina said...

My son was breastfed, held nonstop, etc and did all of the physical stuff early. Our pediatrician said that it's pretty common for babies to advance in one area OR the other (physical vs verbal). I don't think parenting styles have a ton to do with it, just depends on the kid! I totally agree that we all need to parent in the way that works for us!

Diana said...

I have a go-er and a think-er. it is what a drives the child. My first always wanted to move. if i was holding him he wanted me to move. he was early on walking/crawling etc. My DS has been so much more aware of her surroundings. She wanted to watch more then move. she walked at 15months! Each kid is SO different... yet i did the same things with both. Nursed a year plus some, etc. Parents do play a part in how kids turn out but genetics is HUGE take it from a mom of two opposites!!

Macha said...

My favorite response to crap like that? "The plural of 'anecdote' is not 'evidence.'" Comparing one child in a certain set of circumstances to one other child in another set of circumstances doesn't prove or even, you know, kind of imply ANYTHING. Don't you hate it when pesky things like science and facts won't allow you to feel superior to every other person in the world?

Krista Eger said...

My exclusive breastfed, co-sleeping, worn baby was only one month behind my son who was still breastfed, but didn't co-sleep and wasn't worn (before I had heard about these things). He started scooting at 5 months, sitting at 6, crawling at 7, walking at 11. My daughter was one month later. It seems to all be their genetic makeup. They both are crazy climbers too. Unlike most kids. I never even had to use a gate with my daughter because she just figured out how to use the stairs.

I just think everyone needs to stop comparing their kids to everyone else's. UGH! I hate judgement. On both sides. It's fine to do it in your head cause you can feel guilty about it later, but to sit there and talk about how your kids are better, or how your parenting is better is ridiculous. I learned to NEVER EVER judge a parent because I will end up doing the exact same thing. Like I always say "I was an AMAZING parent before I had kids" It's a lot easier said than done.

Kylie said...

So it's hurtful and inappropriate to compare milestones, but it's okay to suggest that your child is slower to meet milestones because she is smarter, happier and more loved?

You can't have it both ways, saying on one hand that there's no medal for mommies with active children and then award yourself one for your less-active baby. This kind of thinking is rampant in AP communities, and it's where they lose me.

Jenn said...

I believe that a lot of physical milestones are dependent on the child's temperament ie. Laid back or more high need intense etc. Both of my daughter's have been nursed on demand, carried/worn, coslept etc...but they have always been very active kids. Both never stopped in utero and have continued on the outside. My 4 year old was a very chubby and sturdy baby - sat unassisted steadily at 4 months, could stand on herown at 5 months and cruising everywhere at 9 though didn't walk withoutvthe wall till 12 months. She was somewhat high need. Never wanted to sleep etc. My 14 month old was intensecfrom the moment she was born. Cried for hours after apeaceful home water birth. If anyone but me or her sister touched her she screamed blue murder. she is very intense emotionally - super happy, super sad, super mad. She has nevercsleptvon her back because she could from back to side or stomach to side since birth, she was moving across the floor in the bathroom and pulling out heating grates at 5 months, cruising and crawling at 7 months and walking at 10. She never stops. Friends kids that walked much latervi find are veryvlaid back, content to just sit and play, no need to get somewhere. My first also talked well....full sentences by 18 months. All kids are different and shouldn't be compared. Just because one starts earlier doesn't even mean thatvthe will be athletic when they are older they all grow at their own pace. However, if you have one like my second, you spend time a little stressed earlier becausevthe brain doesn't always keep upnwithe skill. :) ie. Climbing on things and standing onthings that move at 7 months with no concept that she's going to kill herself. :)

Ginger said...

Wow! I can't imagine having to deal w/ that. I think I'd just become a broken record: Well we're not worried. :)
But then I'm confident that they are all being ridiculous so I wouldn't feel a need to prove anything; a new mom might not be so confident. Sad that people just can't keep their silly thoughts to themselves. said...

Love, love, love this-

My son was a year old and was just hardly sitting up on his own. Everyone was SOOO worried about him, but now- at four, he's just like all the other year olds!

On the other hand, my 15 month old has been sitting up since she was about 6 months. Every child is different.. I wish people would understand that. But, you know how the medical field likes to classify and label everyone!

maddogblog said...

You do realize when you made statements about other people not judging this woman for how she took care of her child, you then went and judged the other mom. This is what irritates me about people who are so pro-certain things, you often cast harsh, negative judgment on anyone who does not do things your way. I am not trying to be mean. I am trying to point out something. Would you go to that mother and tell her you feel sorry for her child because he is formula fed and sleeping on his own? How would you feel if someone else came up to you and said they felt sorry for your child being carried in a sling? Both statements are harsh and wrong to say about any mother's child. BOTH are wrong.