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Developmental Milestones: What are they and why are they relevant?

Developmental milestones are physical or behavioral signs of development in infants and children. There are five categories: physical growth, cognitive development, emotional and social development, language development, and sensory and motor development.

Checkups with your child's practitioner usually means they are checking in to see how your baby or child is progressing with their development. I was recently at appointments for my own 4 kids which is why this is on my mind and I want to talk about it!

In the last year or so, the CDC updated the milestones checklist and basically moved the timeline out further for some milestones, meaning an infant or a child now has a more time to reach those milestone. They also removed crawling from the milestones. On one hand, this can take the pressure off of parents feeling like their child is behind, but on the other, I think we are actually doing a greater disservice to our kids when we aren't catching potential delays sooner. The longer a developmental delay is present, the more therapy and care it can take to resolve the issue. Moving the guide posts doesn't solve the problem. It only puts a temporary bandaid on it.

Let's use the example of crawling. Typically, a baby's movement pattern looks like this: they begin to hold their head up, they roll over, they sit on their own, they crawl, and then they walk. Our bodies are meant to move and a baby's body will figure out how to move in the first 12-18 months. All babies should be crawling by 10-12 months (I'd prefer sooner, but that is the official guideline). You'll see though that not every baby does the classic cross-crawl pattern, moving opposite arm and leg. Some will crawl with 3 limbs, usually extending one of the legs. Some will bum scoot. Some will bear crawl (knees off of the floor). Some will roll. Some will do a type of crab crawl. Some skip this altogether!

Typically, the pediatric medical world recognizes up to somewhere around 6 types of crawling patterns. I argue that there is one kind of crawling pattern and 5 compensation patterns. When I say compensation pattern, I mean that there is some sort of tension, dysfunction, motor delay that is causing the baby to crawl differently than the cross crawl pattern. The baby is going to learn how to move somehow, and so the body is going to figure out the easiest way to do it.

The issue here though is that the movement of the opposite arm and leg actually stimulates the two hemispheres of the brain to learn to work together in a way that the baby's brain hasn't quite had to before. It is also necessary for brain function that the brain learns how to do this. And let me be clear, even if a baby doesn't cross crawl, they will still get some of this type of stimulation through other activities, like crawling up the stairs or up a ladder. Babies aren't moving on stairs or ladders though as frequently as they do just crawling around on the floor, which is why it is more important that the crawl pattern gets fixed.

So if you see a baby who is crawling differently, or hear of a baby who hasn't started holding up their head until 5 or 6 months, sitting up or rolling over until they are closer to 9 months, crawling after 12 months, or walking after 18 months, it is likely that they would benefit from some kind of intervention, whether it is chiropractic care, PT, OT, or a combination of all 3.

You may be asking, why does this matter anyway? If they are still moving and meeting developmental milestones eventually, why should you care? The CDC doesn't recognize crawling as a milestone, so why should I? Yes, technically you can walk without having crawled first. Here is why it matters though: because it impacts their development down the road. Kids who struggle with coordination and balance, have difficulty with certain subjects in school, who find it hard to focus and concentrate on tasks, all may have had aberrant movement patterns as babies.

The human body has a purpose to its very intricate design. To get a baby from birth to walking and talking in 2 years requires an incredible amount of cooperation between all the systems of the body and the facilitation by the brain. Believing that we can skip over crucial points of development does a disservice to what the body is capable of. Why would we deny our kids of this?

Please know, that if your child has dealt with this in the past, or is currently dealing with a delay, this is not a reflection of your capabilities as a parent. Instead, stay curious, move forward with the knowledge you have, and you will always make the best choices for your family. Like I mentioned previously, there are many options for therapy, chiropractic care being one of them, in addition to physical therapy and occupational therapy.

If you have any questions about this topic, please reach out! I'd love to chat!

Note: I love Kinactive Kids on Instagram for all things gross motor and fine motor development. It is a PT/chiropractor team, and they share great resources and info for parents and providers alike!

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