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Development guide from birth to 18 months

How your child will develop

Your baby will develop in their own unique way at their own pace. Their brain develops rapidly during their first 3 years. The interactions they have with people and the world around them play an important part in their development now and in the future.

Social and emotional development

During their first year, babies will build feelings of safety, security and trust in other people. These relationships, particularly with their parents and carers help the baby to develop mentally, physically and emotionally.

Babies work very hard to understand the world around them. Having adults who are consistently available to them will help them to develop trust.

Emotional needs

Babies thrive when their emotional needs are met and they find comfort in faces, touch and ‘snuggling in’. Babies are interested in people and enjoy the company of others from birth. They show a range of emotions and, from about 7 months, show fear, anger and pain more strongly.

Separation anxiety

Babies have a tendency to become more ‘clingy’ at around 8 to 10 months. They may seem nervous of strangers and cry more when their parent or carer leaves the room. This is often referred to as ‘separation anxiety’ which comes and goes, usually peaking at around 18 months.

This is a key time for babies to learn about trust. They need  short separations from their parent or carer to learn that they do always come back. It’s not until about 18 to 24 months that toddlers can carry a picture of their loved ones in their mind.

From 12 to 18 months, children show intense affection for parents, carers and other familiar people.  Toddlers become more aware of themselves and their ability to make things happen.

What to expect

Find out more about the changes you can expect from your child below at each age milestone. Do not worry if your child takes a slightly different course.

Big muscles and movement skills (gross motor skills)


What to expect

By 3 months, most babies can:

  • raise their head and chest when lying on their stomach
  • keep their head in the middle when lying on their back

By 6 months, most babies:

  • learn to roll both ways (front to back, back to front)
  • can grasp feet with hands
  • can support their weight on their legs (when held)
  • begin to develop some mobility on their tummy.

How to help your baby develop their big muscle and movement skills

Change your baby’s position frequently

Do not leave them in supported seating for too long. Play with your baby on the floor, allow them to move about and encourage them to roll, be on their tummy and sit with support.

Give your baby regular ‘tummy time’

Find out more about tummy time in our guide on fun ways to play.



What to expect

By 9 months, most babies can sit unsupported and play with toys.  They’ll probably pivot round on their tummy to get into a crawling position. They may crawl, although some will choose to move around by bottom shuffling.

By 12 months, babies can:

  • get from sitting to lying on their tummy or to crawling
  • get from lying to sitting by themself
  • pull themself up to stand and lower themself to the floor in a controlled way
  • walk holding on to furniture and may stand and walk independently.

How you can help

Continue to give babies lots of time on the floor, lying on both their back and tummy.

Give your child lots of opportunities to move about and do not restrict their movement for prolonged periods of time. This is an exciting time as they begin to explore their environment with a degree of independence. But as they become more mobile, keep dangerous objects out of reach.

We do not recommend baby walkers. Evidence shows that children have a greater risk of accidents which can delay the achievement of motor milestones.


What to expect

By 18 months, most babies can:

  • walk alone with feet wide apart, but frequently fall and bump into furniture
  • get to standing unaided
  • crawl up stairs and may attempt to step up them
  • enjoy walking with push-along toys such as a brick trolley.

How you can help

Continue to give your child lots of opportunities to develop their movement skills around the house. Make sure your home is hazard free.

Show your child how to get down from furniture and use the stairs safely.  Push and pull toys can help develop balance and large, soft balls can help rolling, throwing and kicking.  You can also use balloons and scarves for throwing and catching as these involve slower moving and are easier to catch.

Hand and finger skills (fine motor skills)


What to expect

By 3 months most babies can:

  • open and close their hands
  • bring their hand to their mouth
  • swipe at dangling objects with hands.

By 6 months, most babies can:

  • begin to grasp objects
  • reach with one hand at a time
  • shake and bang toys placed in their hands
  • use their hand to ‘rake’ objects.

How you can help

Give your child toys that stimulate a variety of senses, such as musical mobiles, rattles with different textures and comforters with different materials and bright colours. As your baby develops, they try to reach for these and explore them with their hands.

From 3 months, let your baby grasp your fingers as you pull them up into sitting. Provide objects to see, hear, and grasp, for example, rattles.


What to expect

Babies learn to let go with hands, tend to put everything in their mouth, begin to feed themselves with their fingers and can hold a lidded cup. They explore objects in many different ways, often shaking, banging, throwing and dropping.

By 12 months, most babies can:

  • use a pincer grasp with their thumb and index finger
  • bang two objects together
  • put objects into a container and take them out
  • let go of objects voluntarily
  • poke things with their index finger.

How you can help your child develop

Let your baby play at dropping things which helps in understanding the world.

From about 9 months, encourage your baby to do things with a pincer grasp (holding things between the tips of their thumb and index finger), such as picking up raisins out of a small container.

Give your baby lots of opportunity to use their hands and fingers, such as eating finger foods, playing with water, sand and finger paints. Encourage them to take part in action songs, using their hands, such as Incy Wincy Spider and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.


What to expect

By 18 months, most infants will explore and feel curious. They may like to poke fingers in holes and put things in and take things out of cupboards or containers.

They can also:

  • stack 2 or 3 blocks
  • make marks on paper with crayons
  • pull off shoes, socks, and gloves
  • feed themselves with a spoon.

How you can help your child develop

Encourage your child to do things that require two hands, where one hand ‘holds’ and the other ‘does’ such as mixing in a bowl, building blocks, unscrewing the tops of plastic bottles and building with construction toys like Duplo. These are good for coordination and help the child decide which is their dominant hand.

Give your child finger foods such as raisins and small pieces of rusk and encourage them to feed themselves using a spoon.

See our guide on feeding and mealtimes for more tips and strategies.

Visual perception


What to expect

During the first 6 months, your baby will start to develop control of their eye movements and will watch faces intently.

By 6 months, most babies can follow moving objects and recognise familiar people and objects at a distance.

How you can help your child develop their visual perception skills

Offer your baby interesting things to look at, such as mobiles and bright colours.

From 3 months, slowly move objects in front of your baby’s face, about 40 cm away for them to watch and track with their eyes.


What to expect

By 12 months, most babies can find hidden objects. They can also look at the correct named picture in a book, such as ‘where is the duck?’

How you can help your child

Help your baby to learn concepts such as ‘in’, ‘on’, and ‘under’ by putting items in, on and under another toy and use these words in play. For example ‘look, the block is in the cup’.


What to expect

By 18 months, most infants:

  • can point to and name common body parts and familiar objects
  • recognise basic shapes and colours
  • will point at the correct picture in a book when named.

How you can help your child

Teach your child the names of body parts and familiar objects.

Provide toys and play games involving different colours and shapes, pots, pans, boxes and balls. Introduce shape sorters and simple puzzles (2 to 3 pieces).