Developmental Milestones

The Only 12-Month Milestones That Matter

By a child’s first birthday, developmental milestones slow down drastically. But the ones they hit are big — and matter.

Originally Published: 
Toddler napping in sunlight.

Parents may not have discovered much information about 10-month and 11th-month developmental milestones. And that makes sense. As a baby grows, the apparent developmental touchpoints become a bit more subtle. However, a baby’s first birthday is a momentous occasion, and given the anniversary, many parents are looking to take stock of their baby’s achievements by looking at 12-month-old developmental milestones.

It’s important for parents to remember that every baby is different. Some children will develop certain skills before others. Some babies may skip skills altogether. Some babies may take their own sweet time. And that’s fine. In fact, the first birthday is a wonderful moment to consider your baby’s unique pace and path of development. Any suggested 12-month milestone should be measured against your baby’s specific developmental timeline. Growing up isn’t a race.

In February 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics overhauled the pediatric milestone checklist, partly to reflect this. This process included adding developmental milestones for 15-month-olds and 30-month-olds, and revamping other milestone charts to reflect things most children (75% or more) can do by a certain age. To help parents track milestones on their own, the CDC has released a free Milestone Tracker mobile app, a Digital Online Checklist, and a PDF checklist that parents can download and print.

With the whole child in mind, parents might be better off looking at the broad characteristics of their baby’s physical abilities and personality. To that end, these are the only three 12-month milestones that really matter.

12-Month Milestone #1: Baby Develops Desires, Opinions, and Preferences

It’s not that your baby didn’t have preferences and desires before 12-months. It’s just that now they are finally able to convey those desires, opinions, and preferences to you via their body language, voice, and facial expression.

Of course, the preferences and how a baby expresses them can’t be generalized. Some babies will like things other babies don’t. Some babies may show fear of strangers by being clingy. Some might cry when a parent leaves. Some may point to ask for a toy and some might babble to get attention and interaction. Some babies might do all of these things.

What’s most important is that your 12-month old is showing that they are interested in the world around them and that they’re interested in communicating their interests and displeasure with you through vocalization or gestures.

Red Flags: A 12-month old should be able to use body language, facial expressions, or movements in a purposeful way. You may want to speak to a pediatrician if your 12-month-old cannot point, wave, or shake their head to communicate needs or desires.

What You Shouldn’t Stress About: Many parents are hoping to hear a real first word around 12-months. If you want, you can totally decide that a babbled mama or dada is their first intentional word, but it’s best not to put too much stock in it. Notably, a parent who talks more to their kid will have a kid who talks more and sooner. So if you’re the silent type, you may have to wait a bit longer. Also, if your child is getting along just fine with a gesture or a point, what’s the use in saying anything?

12-Month Milestone #2: Baby Is More Responsive and Interactive

At the end of your baby’s first year, you’ll likely notice that their communication abilities have bloomed. Beyond simply conveying their happiness or displeasure at the world, they can now recognize and respond to your cues. Sometimes the give and take can feel downright conversational.

At 12-months-old, your baby may mimic your movements, or their babble may pick up your style of inflection. They’ll pay attention to you (when they want to) and should be able to respond to specific simple commands (again, when they want to) like “no.”

This interactivity will make playing and story time that much more fun. You can hide objects in front of your child and they’ll seek them out. You can point to pictures as you read and your baby should follow your finger and your gaze. Bang on an object like a cooking pot and they should delight in banging on the pot with you.

Some of this interactive play might be prompted by your baby too. The problem is what is play for your baby may not feel playful to you. For instance, repeatedly dropping a beloved toy while they’re in their high chair might seem monotonous to the point of exasperation to a parent, but for a 12-month-old, it’s a fun experiment to see how you react.

Red Flags: If your child has been responsive and interactive and appears to stop developing or regress, it’s important to speak to a pediatrician. But keep in mind that regressions may not be sudden, and they will need to be placed in the context of your child’s development. An hour or even a day of a less responsive and interactive baby does not necessarily indicate a problem.

What You Shouldn’t Stress About: Every baby will have a different personality. Some 12-month-olds are more exuberant and active than others, and some are relatively sedate. It’s important to not compare your baby’s level of activity to others. Instead, look for significant changes that seem out of place with their disposition to date.

12-Month Milestone #3: Baby Starts to Stand

At 12-months-old, babies who have been given the opportunity to generally have the ability to stand on their own two feet, either with the help of a parent or a piece of furniture. How long they stand and what they do when they get to a standing position, however, will vary wildly. Some 12-month-olds will simply plop back down on their bottoms, while others may take a step or two.

Red Flags: Talk to your pediatrician if your baby appears to be dragging one side of their body when they move or if they are unable to stand and hold up their body with support.

What You Shouldn’t Stress About: At 12 months, parents are probably pushing for those first steps. But there is no hard and fast rule about when these steps should happen. If your baby isn’t taking steps now, just take a deep breath. It will happen eventually as long as they have the time and space to practice.

Non-Milestone Moments Between a Baby’s 9th and 12th Month

At 12-months-old, your baby will still be putting things in their mouth on a regular basis. Don’t sweat it. There are a lot of sensitive sensory organs on a baby’s face, so it makes sense that they would explore their world with their mouth. Just make sure to keep choking hazards out of arm’s reach. The general rule is that if it can fit through a toilet paper tube, it’s not safe.

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