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Why your parenting can't be measured by when your baby hits their milestones

Remember, mama, milestones are a guide—not the rule.

Baby taking first steps.

I feel a twinge of anxiety every time I take my son to the pediatrician. And it's not just over the shots or the probably germ-infested waiting-room toy he's pawing. The stress kicks in once the receptionist hands me the developmental questionnaire, which includes a list of physical, cognitive, and social developmental milestones to tick off.

Does your child respond to their name? (I call my son's name a few times to see. That's a nope.)

Does your child roll? (He's done it, but it didn't seem to be intentional. I consult my husband before checking the "sometimes" box.)

Does your child smile? (Phew. A clear yes.)

Each time I hand the sheet over to my doctor, she's quick to reassure me that this is not, in fact, a test and that there is a big range of what's typical. Still, I have to admit, in the absence of concrete feedback about my parenting, I find myself using these milestones to assess not just how my son is doing, but also how I'm doing as a parent. And when it's unclear whether or not my son is "on track," I worry.

A recent survey has confirmed I'm not alone. The results, collected by OnePoll on behalf of Mead Johnson Nutrition, revealed that 54 percent of moms are worried about their babies reaching milestones at the right age.

"In my practice, I get a lot of referrals for evaluating a child's development, and I see such high levels of anxiety among parents," says Mona Delahooke, PhD, child psychologist and author of Beyond Behaviors: Using Brain Science and Compassion to Change Children's Behavioral Challenges. "When you get feedback that your child is delayed in hitting a milestone or is missing a milestone, it can be so anxiety-provoking, but it's really needless because a child's development is always changing."

When you're hunched over that list at the doctor's office, it might be difficult not to see milestones as anything but black-and-white, but experts stress that it's important to read between the lines. Development is dynamic, milestones are variable, and they're unreliable predictors of future success or failure.

Milestones are variable

Developmental milestones are intended to be guidelines interpreted with the understanding that kids develop at variable rates, says Damon Korb, MD, developmental and behavioral pediatrician, author of Raising an Organized Child, and director and founder of The Center of Developing Minds. "They don't predict what will happen later," he says. "They're just an indicator of where we're at now, and that we're moving through the stages and aren't stuck."

The ages associated with milestones merely reflect an average. Take walking, for example. When you hear that a child is "supposed to" take their first steps by a year old, what that milestone really says is: This is the age by which most children take steps. If you pan out, you'll see that "normal" variation ranges anywhere from about 8 to 18 months.

And parents of premature babies should give their children additional leeway. "If your child was born prematurely, apply milestones to the baby's due date, and not the birth date," Korb says. "It would be unfair to hold a 3-months premature baby to the same standard as someone who had an extra 3 months in the womb."

Progress isn't always linear

Typical development also isn't a straight line. While the word "milestone" implies a step-by-step progression with a neat path connecting point A to point B, experts have found that's simply not how the brain works.

"Developmental theory is moving toward seeing development as happening in cycles rather than in a straight line," Delahook says. " I don't even use the word milestone anymore because I feel that they are so dynamic and shifting. I call them processes."

As children make leaps, they'll simultaneously experience small regressions. "You may see children who have a burst of language development and get clumsy for a month or two. Or the opposite," Korb says. "Uneven growth in one area of the brain can overwhelm growth in the other temporarily."

Learning to walk is a microcosm of this back-and-forth process. "When toddlers learn to walk, they don't learn all at once," Delahooke says. "You walk, then you fall. Over time those motor skills develop through a few steps forward, and a few steps backward. It doesn't happen all at once."

Likewise, it's not uncommon to see a child who is early to walk, but late to talk, or vice-versa. "While kids can do a whole bunch of things at one time, sometimes they can only truly advance their milestones one at a time while the others lag," says Katherine Williamson, MD, FAAP, a California-based pediatrician and media spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Step away from the milestone to view the big picture

Developmental questionnaires aren't pass/fail tests — there's only so much a single milestone can tell us. Your doctor collects this information so they can evaluate milestones in the context of a child's overall development.

"If I have a patient who was hitting all their milestones until 6 or 9 months and then slows down, I'm looking for something new," Williamson says. "If I have a kid who is always a little late to roll, crawl, and walk, but they get there, I sort of know their pattern. That's a kid who might be putting their focus more on social cues than physical development."

Look at each milestone as one piece of the puzzle. Without considering your child's development as a whole, examining one tiny part won't tell you much about where they stand. And myopic focus on each small piece can prevent you from seeing what's really important.

For instance, rather than tallying up each word your toddler says, consider the many ways your child communicates. Even if a child doesn't talk at all, ask yourself whether or not they're communicating through gestures, pointing, or facial expressions. "Step back to see if your kid is engaging, if they understand a lot of what you're saying, and if they're starting to learn new words — even if the kid next door is the same age and is speaking full sentences, because that doesn't necessarily mean anything," Williamson says.

Early developmental achievements ≠ future success

We've all probably heard stories of the babies who rattle off whole paragraphs before they turn one or break into a full sprint at 8 months. It can be tempting to look at a child who's ahead on milestones (especially if they're your own) and wonder if they might be destined to become the next Steve Jobs or Serena Williams.

While it's entirely possible you have a budding brainiac or a future Olympian on your hands, the age at which your child hits milestones won't necessarily predict it. "It's a misconception that if your kid talks at 10 months, they're a genius," Korb says. "It just means his development was more uneven."

As with developmental lags, it's best to look at leaps in the context of the child's overall development. "The fact that someone reads early is not predictive," Korb says. "But if they read well and have good communication skills and are good at figuring out puzzles, you can say that this guy is an effective thinker."

Some milestone delays do require intervention

Though milestones may be unreliable markers of future genius, doctors do rely on them to help identify developmental challenges. In some cases, significant ongoing developmental delays will require an intervention or additional diagnosis, as they can be symptomatic of a learning or developmental disability.

If your child is not reaching milestones within the suggested range, don't worry, but do check in with your pediatrician, Williamson urges. "It's good to have them take into the context to see if intervention is necessary," she explains. "This is where we want parents to want to rely on their pediatrician and not put it on them to self-diagnose their children."

The good news for parents is that there are many ways to support developmental delays. "We can support a child if they happen to have areas of challenge. We know how to do that," Delahooke says. "It's super hopeful. It's not fixed."

Instead of thinking about milestones as scrawled in permanent ink, try thinking of them as sketched in pencil, as alterable markings that provide guidance, rather than a definitive letter grade assessing your child — or your parenting.

"We have enough to worry about as parents," Delahooke says. "If we recognize how dynamic development is, we'll have more compassion for not only for our kids, but also for ourselves."

This story originally appeared on Apparently.

Without camps and back-to-school plans still TBD, the cries of "I'm bored!" seem to be ringing louder than ever this summer. And if you're anything like me, by August, I'm fresh out of boxes to check on my "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys.

With that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite wooden toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

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Products that solve your biggest breastfeeding challenges

Including a battle plan for clogged ducts!

When expecting a baby, there is a lot you can test-run in advance: Take that stroller around the block. Go for a spin with the car seat secured in place. Learn how to use the baby carrier with help from a doll. But breastfeeding? It's not exactly possible to practice before baby's arrival.

The absence of a trial makes it all the more important to prepare in other ways for breastfeeding success—and it can be as simple as adding a few of our lactation aiding favorites to your registry.

MilkBliss chocolate chip soft baked lactation cookies

MilkBliss lactation cookies

Studies have shown the top reason women stop breastfeeding within the first year is because they are concerned about their milk supply being enough to nourish baby. Consider MilkBliss Lactation Cookies to be your secret weapon. Not only are they wholesome and delicious, but they were formulated specifically for breastfeeding moms based on the science of galactagogues—also known as milk boosters. They also come in peanut butter and wild blueberry flavors.

$23

Evereden multi-purpose healing balm

Evereden multipurpose healing balm

Also up there on the list of reasons women stop breastfeeding: the toll the early days can take on nipples. Made from just five ingredients, this all natural healing balm is ideal for soothing chafed nipples, making for a much more comfortable experience for mama as her body adjusts to the needs of a breastfeeding baby.

$20

Lansinoh milk storage bags

Lansinoh milk storage bags

For a breastfeeding mama, there are few things more precious and valuable than the milk she worked so hard to pump—and it's the stuff of nightmares to imagine it spilling out in the fridge. With these double-sealed milk storage bags, you can be assured your breastmilk is safe and sound until baby needs it.

$12.50

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Nursing a baby is a 24/7 job, which calls for some wardrobe modifications. Because Belly Bandit specializes in making things more comfortable for the postpartum mama, they've truly thought of every detail—from the breathable fabric to the clips that can be easily opened with one hand.

$47

boob-ease soothing therapy pillows

Boob Ease soothing therapy pillows

For nursing moms, duct can quickly become a four-letter word when you suspect it's getting clogged. By keeping these soothing breast pillows in your breastfeeding arsenal, you can immediately go on the defense against plugged milk ducts by heating the pads in the microwave or cooling them in the freezer.

$25

Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

A unfortunate reality of nursing is that it can really seem to limit the wardrobe options when you have to think about providing easy, discrete access. But by adding functional basics to your closet, you can feel confident and prepared for breastfeeding on the go.

$59

Bebe au Lait premium cotton nursing cover

Bebe au Lait cotton nursing cover

Nursing in public isn't every mama's cup of tea. But babies can't always wait until you've found a private place to get down to business if that's your preference. That's where a nursing cover comes in handy. This one is made from premium cotton and features a patented neckline that allows for airflow and eye contact even while you're covered.

$36

Lactation Lab basic breastmilk testing kit

Lactation Lab breastmilk testing kit

Curious to learn more about the liquid gold you're making, mama? The testing kit from Lactation Labs analyzes your breast milk for basic nutritional content like calories and protein, as well as vitamins, fatty acids and environmental toxins to help boost your breastfeeding confidence.

$99

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this

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This viral post about the 4th trimester is exactly what new mamas need right now

"We are alone. Together. You are surrounded all the other mothers who are navigating this tender time in isolation. You are held by all of us who have walked the path before you and who know how much you must be hurting. You are wrapped in the warm embrace of mama earth, as she too settles into this time of slowness and healing."

Artist and teacher Catie Atkinson at Spirit y Sol recently shared a beautiful drawing of a new mom crying on a couch—leaking breasts, newborn baby, pile of laundry and what we can only assume is cold coffee, included. Everything about the image is so real and raw to me—from the soft stomach to the nursing bra and the juxtaposition of the happy wallpaper to the palpable vulnerability of the mother—I can almost feel the couch underneath me. I can feel the exhaustion deep in this woman's bones.

My heart feels the ache of loneliness right alongside hers. Because I remember. I remember the confusion and uncertainty and love and messy beauty of the fourth trimester so well. After all, it's etched in our minds and bodies forever.

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