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This is a submission in our monthly contest. December’s theme is Growth. Enter your own here!


When I first saw the topic for Parent Co.’s December writing contest, I quite literally threw my hands in the air, scoffed aloud, and closed my laptop. Of course, I promptly reopened it to do what I always do in times of trouble; I Googled it. “Growth: development, maturation, growing, germination, sprouting; blooming…” The words glared off the bright screen into my tired eyes and made the dark surrounding of my rarely quiet living room seem just a shade or two darker. I closed my laptop again. What did I know of growth? As I fought the sleep that I so desperately look forward to each evening, my thoughts drifted back to my first conscious memory of growing.

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When I was seven years old, I suddenly began waking up in the middle of the night with excruciating pain in both of my legs. My tiny unshaven legs throbbed from calf to thigh with a type of pain that I had never experienced. Night after night, I would wake up sobbing and my mother would come into my room to comfort me and wrap my legs with steaming hot towels. After what a felt like a few weeks (but more likely was just a few very long nights) of waking to this excruciating leg pain, my mom took me to the pediatrician to confirm that which she had suspected all along. I was having growing pains. Eat more dairy and take a daily vitamin. Needless to say, my desperate pleas for a second opinion went unrequited.

Growing pains? I certainly thought not. How could it be? I had been growing my entire life and it had never hurt before. I didn’t buy it. It was too obvious; too cliché. Surely, I was very ill and not a soul in this world cared enough to take a closer look at what was truly ailing me before it would inevitably be too late. But, miraculously, over the next few weeks, the aching in my legs dulled and the memory of what it felt like to grow faded until it was an indiscernible and unremarkable moment in time.

While admittedly naive and embarrassingly precocious, my own seven-year-old logic remains sound 25 years later. I had been growing for seven years, yet I had never experienced the slightest awareness of it. Not one muscle twinge or tummy ache had ever been attributed to growth. So why, when my legs had stretched far longer and grown far thinner in past years, was I so suddenly and abruptly made painfully aware of my body’s struggle against its own to desire to change? It was a good question for a seven-year-old girl; it remains a good question for a 33-year-old woman.

As I sat in the darkness, still temporarily blinded from growth’s blaring definition into my optic nerve and its recently revived memory fading once again back into the surrounding darkness, I still did not know why sometimes it hurts to grow while other times it does not.

As 2017 comes to a close and I look back at this year, I see that precocious seven-year-old girl on the ground with two scraped knees. She has fallen down. The few short moments that she’s been on the ground feel like a lifetime. Her shock and pain have quickly shifted to embarrassment and self-loathing. She mistakes the help that she is being offered for mockery and condescendence. Surrounded by people who love her, she feels alone. But she is just shaken up; she took a very rough fall and briefly lost sight of the fact that she is just fine. It’s not too late in the day for her to get back up, with the help of others, forgive her clumsy self and anyone who might have accidentally gotten in her way. As I sat in the darkness, I could see her stubbornly refusing to get back up again.

I spent 2017 angry on the ground, wondering whether I tripped or if someone pushed me and how the hell I was going to take them down in return. But I didn’t take anyone down; I just kept myself there for almost an entire year. Time and time again, I pushed away familiar hands that reached out to help me. Hands that had fed, bathed, and clothed me. Hands that had wrapped my throbbing tiny unshaven legs in steaming hot towels night after night and that had never asked a single thing in return from me. I refused their help because my pain had somehow convinced me that someone or something had to be to blame for it. I was still subscribing to that same futile concept that pain can be explained; that growth can be understood.

The scuffs and scrapes that I accumulated in 2017 will undoubtedly leave me with scars. And while I may be sore for a while, I am finally ready to admit that no one is responsible for the pain that I have and will experience in this lifetime; I very well may never understand why sometimes, some years, it hurts to grow, while others it does not. The pain that I confronted this year will not be resolved with a daily vitamin or increased calcium intake. I can’t Google it and instantly understand it. But I am weary of waiting for understanding. It’s not too late in the day to reach out to the tired hands that always linger nearby in times of trouble. It’s not too late to let them pull me back up, dust me off, and tightly wrap me in their tired love. It’s never too late in the year to get back up after falling from grace. And even if you don’t understand it, it’s never too late to grow from pain.

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$79.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

This article was sponsored by GAP. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

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When Anastacia Gencarelli shared the story of how her 2-year-old daughter ended up being hospitalized for milk anemia she was not trying to scare anyone—she just wanted other parents to know that "milk anemia is a thing"because she didn't.

But when her Facebook post went viral and the headlines were super scary that didn't quite tell the whole story.

"Toddler who was nearly killed by COW'S MILK," the Daily Mail's headline reads.

Yes, Gencarelli's 2-year-old daughter Mia was hospitalized after drinking too much milk, but it is more complicated than that, we have learned.

Here is what you need to know about this viral story + milk anemia.

As Gencarelli explained in her original Facebook post, she shared her story to spread awareness of the existence of milk anemia. While it is well documented that overconsumption of milk can have a negative effect on a toddler's iron levels, it's not something all parents know.

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Basically, cow's milk is not a high iron food and what iron it does contain is not well absorbed. So if a child stops consuming breastmilk and/or iron-fortified formula or cereal and starts drinking a lot of cow's milk without adding other sources of iron, they're at risk for anemia.

Anemia can be treated or prevented with supplements, but the preferred method of prevention is through iron-rich foods. "Ideally, we would prevent iron deficiency and iron-deficiency anemia with a diet consisting of foods that are naturally rich in iron," Dr. Robert Baker, co-author of an American Academy of Pediatrics report on the prevention of iron deficiency and iron-deficiency anemia has previously explained.

"Feeding older infants and toddlers foods like meat, shellfish, legumes and iron-rich fruits and vegetables, as well as iron-fortified cereals and fruits rich in vitamin C, which help iron absorption, can help prevent iron deficiency," he said.

Gencarelli tells Motherly her daughter was drinking 4 to 6 bottles of cow's milk a day and that while she's not a particularly picky eater she is not a huge fan of meat.

Doctors recommend toddlers consume 2.5 servings of dairy per day, and a study in the journal Pediatrics found 2 cups a day is the best amount of milk for toddlers.

"We saw that two cups of cow's milk per day was enough to maintain adequate vitamin D levels for most children, while also maintaining iron stores. With additional cow's milk, there was a further reduction in iron stores without greater benefit from vitamin D," Dr. Jonathon Maguire, a pediatrician at St. Michael's Hospital and the lead author of the study has previous explained.

As reported by CBC, drinking from a bottle rather than a cup is linked to a more dramatic decrease in toddler's iron stores. It's possible that serving milk in a bottle contributes to parental underreporting of milk consumption. Parents might not even realize that milk is keeping their child full, which makes it hard to get iron rich foods into them,

So what can parents do to prevent milk anemia?

If you are concerned your child may be anemic talk to your doctor right away and consider offering more iron-rich foods at home.

Kacie Barnes, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), tells Motherly that while extreme cases like the one described by Gencarelli are not common, mild iron deficiency is common. That's why she recommends serving meat, as it contains the best absorbed type of iron.

"Even babies can eat ground or soft cooked, tender meats. Think crockpot, stewed, or braised," says Barnes, who recommends chili as a family-friendly iron-rich meal (just keep the salt and the spicy stuff out of your little one's serving).

She continues: "Beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas contain iron, so I encourage parents of babies and toddlers to serve those often, especially if their little one doesn't eat much (or any) meat. Vitamin C boosts iron absorption, so it's helpful to serve iron rich foods alongside fruit or veggies like citrus, strawberries, or broccoli. Another helpful trick: Cook with a cast iron pan. Small amounts of iron do absorb into food when you cook with it—and this is a good thing!"

The bottom line:

It's important to remember that Gencarelli's story is the story of her individual child, who is currently undergoing further medial care to deal not just with the anemia, but other issues that presented afterward. When her daughter is discharged from the hospital Gencarelli will be continuing to serve iron supplements and says her medical team has provided her with some iron-rich recipes.

Her post went viral not because she was trying to scare anyone away from milk, but because she was trying to save other mamas from being as scared as she was when her little girl got sick. You only know what you know, and now that she knows her daughter was consuming too much milk she plans to serve fewer servings.

We hope that Mia has a quick recovery and we're thankful that Gencarelli shared her story online. Her family is in a lot of pain right now (something made worse by the many mean comments she's received about her daughter's milk consumption) and she just wants to prevent other families from feeling that pain, too.

News

When I was very pregnant everyone was determined to make sure I knew how terrible it would be to have a new baby. Forget swollen feet and heartburn that made me vomit, they all swore I didn't know how bad it was going to be until I had a newborn around to ruin my life. As if it were a secret, they told me I would never truly sleep again, would age overnight and lose my identity, my body would sag, I would hate my husband, my marriage would transform into drudgery and red wine, with everything covered in poop.

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The relentless low-grade negativity sent me running to the internet to search "best things about parenting a newborn." The discouraging results warned me of Top Things You'll do Wrong as a New Parent, How to Survive Having a Newborn, and Biggest Mistakes New Parents Make. Not a single one was positive, and I really needed some reassurance around then.

So here I am, safely on the other side of the first eight weeks of newborn parenting and I can proclaim that a lot of it is simply wonderful. Here's why:

Your baby is real!

However it happened, you've successfully had a child. For so long you've been living around the idea that you might one day have a baby. It was so hard for me to feel like my baby was real before she was born. I knew every kick and roll, and I knew that she had hiccups pretty much every day, but she still felt more like a concept.

Now I don't have to wonder what she is like. She changes every day. She still has the hiccups. She also stretches and raises her eyebrows and nods her head as she finishes eating as if to say yum yum yum. Someday she will look at pizza that way.

You are the best at everything.

The reality is that until you do it, you don't know for sure that you can. Because babies need about six things on repeat, you get really good at everything. Within hours if not days, you will have it down. The diapers, the feeding, the tiny clothes. Most of it isn't that hard.

The first time I got my baby to latch in the middle of the night without turning the light on, I felt like I was a superstar. When you are able to transform a primal ragged scream of hunger or discomfort into pure silence, and then your baby gives a little sigh and falls asleep on your chest, you will be the champion of parenting.

You can watch all the TV and read all the books.

You have a legitimate reason to spend hours and hours motionless on the sofa and demand that someone refills your water and brings you a snack because obviously the baby wants you to have another cookie.

Watching your partner become a parent is full of unexpectedly sweet moments.

I have so loved watching my husband become a dad. I don't have to tell you it broke me when I came home from picking up take-out to find him tunelessly singing '70s rock ballads while she gazed up at him adoringly. I love seeing my parents as doting grandparents who want nothing more to cuddle her and buy her things she doesn't need. My husband said that parenting isn't like a new chapter of a book, but like you turn the page and end up in another dimension. And I get to watch that happen.

Newborn poop doesn't smell bad and is water-soluble.

Truly, it smells like cereal and washes out of things. Most of the time, it is contained. Parents don't help future parents by describing that one time they got smeared with poop just before a wedding. They forget to mention the literally hundreds of times they deftly changed a diaper and walked away spotless.

Your body is yours again.

Forget all of that business about getting your "body back" in a cosmetic Instagram way, and enjoy that instead of having to lug the baby all over town inside your enormous belly. You can hand them over to someone else to carry! No one is physically pressing on your bladder, stomach, or other organs. Your body may have changed, but it is yours. What a relief.

Rest assured, babies are even cute and a little bit hilarious when they are screaming. Maybe the others weren't all wrong when they told you how hard it would sometimes be, but they probably also spent hours making faces at their baby to see what would coax out the sweetest smile in the world. They just forgot to tell you that part, and that it will all be worth it.

Life

Temperatures are dropping, Christmas decorations are flooding the shelves, and Thanksgiving is right around the corner. But take a break from prepping for the holidays, mama, and check out the headlines that made waves this week.

Here at Motherly we know mamas are busy, so we make sure to keep track of everything you may have missed on the Internet this week.

There are the viral stories making Team Motherly smile right now:

This judge went viral for supporting a new mom + new lawyer in the most wonderful way

Juliana Lamar just accomplished something major: She graduated law school and was sworn into the Tennessee bar...and she did it all while raising her 1-year-old son. Doing all of this at the same had to have been incredibly difficult, but oh so rewarding. She celebrated her incredible achievements as a working mother in the most special way, thanks to a wonderful judge.

Judge Richard Jinkins encouraged the mama to bring her son along when she was sworn into the state bar, and he even held on the little boy while his mother recited her oath. Not surprisingly, the incredibly sweet video of the judge carrying the 1-year-old as he watched his mother officially become a lawyer has gone viral.

"On the day of my swearing-in, right before we began, Judge said he wanted Beckham to take part in the moment," Lamar, who counts the judge as a major inspiration and supporter, tells Buzzfeed. "And I am so glad he did because to have my son take part in one of the greatest moments of my life was truly a blessing."

Lamar's colleague shared footage of the incredibly sweet incident. "Y'all. Judge Dinkins of the Tennessee Court of Appeals swore in my law school colleague with her baby on his hip, and I've honestly never loved him more," a tweet from the colleague reads. "She's one of four women in our class who became moms while in law school. Women are amazing."

Why this refreshingly honest birth plan from Reddit is going viral

Pregnant people talk a lot about birth plans. You might even type out a few different versions before settling on the one you want to show your medical team. But the thing is, even if you spend months planning out the perfect birth plan, things can change so quickly.

That's why the internet is loving this birth plan that was uploaded to Reddit. The person who typed this up is so realistic, so honest and so authentically advocating for herself.

"I don't have a plan," reads the first bullet point.

"I've never done this before," she notes in the second.

"I have no idea what I am doing," she explains in the third bullet.

So many first time mamas can relate to this feeling, and also to a passage that is highlighted.

It reads: "I am not trying to be a hero! Please assume that I want every option available to me for pain management and PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let me know in real and update time if any of the pain management options are nearing the point where they are no longer available to me as I progress through labor."

This is a mama who knows herself and also knows that birth plans can change so quickly.

Mom's photo of laundry Christmas tree goes viral on Instagram 

sincerelymumsy

Australian mom and Instagrammer Jessi Roberts (aka @sincerelymumsy) is going viral this week thanks to her hilarious Christmas tree hack.

Instead of dealing with her laundry, this genius mama made it into festive decor.

It actually happened last year, when Roberts family was about to go on a trip. "Last years Christmas tree 🤣 We where going away for 2 weeks and I couldn't and didn't have time to do the washing... so Like any creative person... I improvise 💁🏼♀️ I left it up for 2 weeks... @thebaysidedentist [Roberts' partner] wasn't impressed," she writes on Instagram.

Roberts' original caption back in 2018 was equally hilarious: "The best way to avoid doing the washing - turn it into a Christmas tree," she wrote. "It's free. I'll wash this after Christmas or maybe the 'elf on the shelf' can help me."

This is a Christmas decor hack we can totally see catching on.

A FB moms group help this baby get a liver—and went viral for it 

Moms groups on the internet sometimes get an unfair reputation. You say "Facebook moms group" and people often imagine an online space where mom shaming is common, and while that may be true in some instances, these communities are more often sources of support, not shame.

No story highlights this better than Robin Bliven's. When she posted about how her private group ended up connecting mamas and getting a liver for a baby boy who needed one, the story made national headlines and proved how supportive these groups can be. Internet communities are real communities, and some are amazing places to be.

"You can talk smack about mom groups on Facebook all you want... but don't talk smack about mine, because we crowd sourced a freaking organ," Bliven wrote on Facebook.

When one member of the Facebook group, Beth Rescsanski, learned her baby, Cal, needed a liver transplant over 100 moms in the group were screened to see if they were potential donors. That's 100 fellow parents who were willing to have surgery for someone else's baby. That's the definition of a supportive community!

In the end, single mom Andrea Alberto was a match and donated part of her own liver to baby Cal. The mom of two says it wasn't hard choice.

"I knew organ donation was something I would be willing to do, so when I found out Cal was being listed for transplant, it was a very easy decision," Alberto told TODAY Parents."If there is someone in need and there is something you can reasonably do to help them, why wouldn't you do it? I like to think that if it was one of my kids in need, someone from my extended network would step in to help."

American Girl celebrates diversity by including model with Down syndrome

The American Girl dolls taught a generation about history and showed children reflections of themselves in an era where diverse dolls were hard to come by. Now, in 2019, the company continues to highlight diversity and give children the representation they crave. This can be seen in the new holiday catalog where 4-year-old Ivy Kimble is among the young models.

"There's not a lot of print or media with a lot of kids with Down syndrome," her mom Kristin Kimble told WLS-TV.

Kimble told Today she's so proud of Ivy, and so happy that American Girl is celebrating all girls. "I'm so proud of Ivy," Kimble says. "She's showing the world, 'Look at me, I'm here. I'm doing it. I'm an American Girl.'"

Gal Gadot perfectly captures our feelings about motherhood in this viral Instagram post 

You never really understand the meaning of the phrase "time flies" until you become a parent. Another thing you don't quite understand until you welcome your children? How deep your capacity to love really is. Actress Gal Gadot just nailed both of those ideas in a single social media post.

The famous mama shared a note to her daughter, Alma, on her eighth birthday. "I'm so lucky to be your mother. Thank you for teaching me so much about life without even knowing you are and for giving me the most precious title I could ever ask for. I promise I'll do anything for you, love and protect you forever," she wrote in the Instagram post.

The mama continued: "Just please, don't grow up so fast," she writes. "Take your time. I can't believe you're 8 already . Love you to the moon through all galaxies double the number of grain of sand in the universe."

ALL. THE. FEELS. Hasn't she just perfectly captured what it feels like to watch your children grow?

News

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.)

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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."

Life
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