Developmental Milestones

The Only 9-Month Milestones That Matter

Developmental milestones appear to come a bit more slowly as a child reaches their first year, but they are no less important.

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A baby looking at itself in the mirror

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doesn’t list specific 7-month or 8-month developmental milestones. That’s because, in broad view of baby developmental milestones, the pace of development slows down as a baby ages. So although you may be seeing day-to-day changes in the first months, as you get closer to 1-year-old, much of the developmental activity — the building and breaking down of neural pathways — can’t be regularly observed on a day-to-day basis. But there are some 9-month milestones to be aware of.

At 9 months, parents are looking for the marquee developmental milestones, like crawling, saying first words, eating new solid foods, and cruising. But at this point, your baby may not hit important milestones at the same rate or in the same order as other children. As a guide, the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics overhauled the pediatric milestone checklist in February 2022. 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.

Baby development milestones are important in that they offer a general roadmap of human development. The thing is that your baby may take the scenic route or find a shortcut. There may be a well-trod path of development that a “typical” or average 9-month-old follows. But when it comes down to individual babies, they’re all different. And those differences can be linked to cultural norms, genetics, and the environment in which they are raised. That’s why considering your baby as an individual on their own path of development is far more desirable than being a developmental milestone hard-liner.

When considering the following 9-month milestones, it’s important to place them in the context of how your baby has been developing since birth. Look more at broad collections of behaviors and abilities rather than the minutiae. If you feel that something has changed dramatically in terms of your baby’s pace of development or in their abilities, there may be cause for concern. But most likely, if your baby continues to gain abilities, they’re growing as they should.

9-Month Milestone #1: Baby Moves (or Sits) With a Purpose

Between 6- and 9-months-old, a baby’s natural curiosity and developing strength should compel them and enable them to explore. But how far and how often they explore is very much connected to their surroundings and their temperament.

What that means is that some babies may be naturally inclined toward caution and the conservation of movement. Other babies will be adventurous and seemingly indefatigable. Neither type of temperament is better than the other.

How that temperament manifests will also be contingent on the baby’s surroundings. A high-energy and super curious baby in an urban apartment with plenty of furniture and shelves to pull up on might start cruising sooner than expected because there aren’t that many places to crawl and explore. A cautious baby with plenty of room to roam may keep crawling or scooting longer than other children because they’re not inclined to go beyond their parents or the toys within reach.

Red Flags: At 9 months, crawling is less important than if your baby has developed the core strength to prop themselves up and move their body with a sense of coordination and purpose. You will want to talk to your pediatrician if your baby seems limp or they will not put weight on their legs when held in a standing position. Additionally, if a baby’s movement continues to seem random or they tend to move or use one side of their body over the other, there may be developmental issues to consider.

What You Shouldn’t Stress About: Most parents will have recognized their baby’s temperament by 9-months-old. So any expectations of reaching big milestones like cruising or crawling should be placed in the context of their baby’s natural activity patterns. A baby that is content to sit and play is fine as long as they are active and curious about what they have at hand. A baby that army crawls all over the house at a fantastic clip is also fine, as long as they are moving with a sense of curiosity. Taking steps, cruising, or four-on-the-floor crawling is unimportant as long as a child is active and interactive with their environment.

9-Month Milestone #2: Baby Is a Player

Nine months into baby development, play is becoming an increasingly important way for a baby to show you their abilities. As they become more coordinated, their natural curiosity will help them to find joy in manipulating objects, reaching, grasping, and passing toys from hand to hand. They should also become pretty adept at a pincer grasp — picking up smaller objects with their thumb and forefinger.

Play also helps reveal a 9-month-old baby’s cognitive development. A baby that delights in peek-a-boo or reaching into boxes to remove objects is showing that they have an understanding of object permanence and have starting building memory skills. They know that when objects can’t be seen, they do not simply disappear and that an object that has been hidden away can be retrieved.

Back-and-forth play with parents will also be super fun for babies, and they should show a connection to parents with smiles, mimicry, and good-old fashioned babble.

Red Flags: A baby that doesn’t want to play is very different than a baby who can’t play, and parents need to make that distinction. Talk to your pediatrician if your baby seems unable to play because they’re unable to focus, meet your gaze, sit up, or manipulate objects in a purposeful way.

What You Shouldn’t Stress About: At 9 months, baby babble is fine. Parents shouldn’t expect full words that indicate a particular object or person. In fact, some babies may get what they need through other cues, such as pointing or crying or looking, making specific words kind of unnecessary. Parents also shouldn’t put too much concern into a baby that prefers to explore or play with things rather than people or other babies. As long as a baby has the ability to play, their preference in what they play with isn’t too much of a concern.

Non-Milestone Moments Between Baby’s 6th and 9th Month

At 9-months-old, many babies are able to start exploring new foods. Parents who are interested can start supplementing formula or breastfeeding with child-safe, soft finger foods. Aim for whole foods rather than processed and lean on stuff like bananas, avocado, peppers, and maybe the occasional pudding if you want to let them play with a spoon. This process will be wildly messy, but don’t sweat it.

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