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The Only 4-Month Milestones That Matter

Most parents overdo the whole milestone thing in the fourth month. Stop stressing out and focus on the two (just two) developmental moments that really matter.

Developmental milestones are considered by many parents to be sequential. But infant milestones are not distinct achievements that children will hit, unlocking abilities as if leveling up in a video game. Some acquire abilities connected with 4-month milestones early, hitting other milestones late. Some babies may leap over milestone completely. It’s not worth it for parents stress out over most developmental milestones — instead, looking at a child from a holistic perspective is a more healthy tact, for both the parent and child. After all, your 4-month-old as a whole isn’t just an avatar collecting a bunch of cool skills, although those will be coming in droves at this time of life.

In the fourth month of life, your baby will be starting to really figure things out. They’re natural experimenters and while their experiments can be disruptive — “What happens when I drop my pacifier this time?” — they are important. Because a four-month-old is starting to learn about their world and, just as importantly, trying to make sure you know about the world their discovering.

4-Month Milestone #1: Baby Should Be Communicative

Baby communication is a bit more subtle than you might imagine. Absent the capacity for language, your kid has to rely on the abilities they do have to try and get your attention. What are those abilities? Crying, cooing, grabbing, dropping, kicking, giggling, making faces and looking. 

These methods of communication aren’t always pleasant. After all, you only want to pick up the dropped toy so many times, and crying is never fun. But these behaviors are important because they signal your baby has developed some important skills. Smiling at you to get you to smile back means they are becoming aware of their personhood. Dropping objects for you to pick up means they’re gaining an understanding of cause and effect. Watching your face and listening to your voice before making their own response means that they are beginning to understand your emotions. 

When a baby becomes more communicative, in their special baby way, it means that their motor development and cognitive development are beginning to work in concert. And as these systems come together, they are beginning to connect your baby to a wider world outside themselves. Most importantly not every baby will communicate in the same way. Look for your baby’s special mode of communication. 

Red Flags: If your baby isn’t following objects with their eyes, or doesn’t vocalize or react to your face by four months, it could be indicative that there is an issue with cognitive development. While there’s no reason to be terribly worried if your baby’s health is otherwise sound, it’s definitely something you’ll want to discuss with your baby’s pediatrician

What You Shouldn’t Stress About: Being communicative does not mean that your baby will be signing or saying actual words. Mostly, they’ll just want to make sure they have your attention. Give it to them, for sure, but also let them lead. There’s no sense in trying to teach them more words through DVDs or flashcards. Those things won’t help. Just talk to them as you normally would.  

4-Month Milestone #2: Baby Should Be Stronger

Physically, typical babies’ motor systems seem to “turn on” in a specific way — from head to toe and from the middle of their body outwards. Which is to say they develop control and dexterity over these systems in a top-down, middle-out manner. As they practice using and these muscles, from neck to core to legs, and from arms to hands to fingers, they will become stronger. 

It’s not as if your baby will lifting weights at 4 months, but they should be using their systems in concert in order to explore their world. They might push themselves up and be able to reach out during tummy time. They might keep their arms taught and pull as parents help them into a sitting position. They will look fairly stable and be able to look around freely, reaching out to play and explore. And when parents hold them in a standing position they should be strong enough to support their weight without their knees buckling. 

Red Flags: A baby whose movements are erratic and who does not seem to have control over their head, may not be developing typically. Babies who are struggling with physical development might have a tendency to keep their limbs tucked up and may simply seem listless and floppy.

What You Shouldn’t Stress About: At 4 months, there’s no need for your baby to need to know how to roll over. If they are otherwise strong and alert, the movement will eventually come, as will the ability to sit independently and eventually move around on their own. 

Non-Milestone Moments In Baby’s Fourth Month 

Four-month-olds should be taking a couple of naps during the day along with a full night of sleep. So that a very good sign. Keep in mind that sleeping through the night doesn’t mean soundless sleep. They will naturally wake between sleep cycles just like adults. So before you rush in, see if they can settle on their own. 

Also, take a look at your baby’s eyes. Weirdly, the color might be changing a bit, and you may not know what color their eyes will settle on for a few more weeks. This is natural, if a little sad. Goodbye, baby blues.