Key Development Stages

NUK’s guide to child development

Our step by step guide to the key development stages will tell you what to expect during each key stage in your little one’s exciting journey from newborn through to toddler, it includes everything from feeding, to weaning, to walking! Discover some of the key milestones that you can expect at each fascinating stage.

  • The First Weeks
  • 4 - 9 Months - Weaning Fun
  • 10 - 24 Months - Toddler Time
  • 24 Months - Little People

How best to feed your baby

If you decide to breastfeed your baby

If you decide to breastfeed your baby

Breast milk contains everything that your child needs for the first six months of life – always in the correct quantity, at the right temperature, and immediately available wherever you both might be. Even if you should fall ill, your baby won’t lose out in any way. In fact, your baby is actually absorbing essential antibodies as well as nutrients from your milk. Breast milk works like an inoculation for your child against a large number of acute illnesses both now and in later life, such as infections, inflammations and allergies, to name but a few.

Breastfeeding is also a positive experience for you as a mother. Aside from its practical advantages and the way in which it allows you and your baby to bond deeply, breastfeeding is also soothing to the body and soul. In short, breastfeeding gives your baby the best start in life. Because this is the case, we have a dedicated an entire section to the subject, visit our breastfeeding page or download our Breastfeeding Guide for a wealth of supportive information and tips.

If you are unable to breastfeed your baby

Although it is recommended to breastfeed your baby, NUK knows that sometimes this isn’t possible, and you may even decide that breastfeeding is simply not for you. In these situations, bottle feeding is a good alternative. Bottles can be used to either feed your baby expressed breast milk or infant milk formulas, which are perfectly adequate apart from their lack of antibodies.

Using a bottle to feed your child will not stand in the way of you both forming a deep connection, and has other benefits such as letting your baby's father, grandparents or other family members and friends have a go.

If you decide to breastfeed your baby...

Milestones

Milestones

During the first three months of your child’s life, everything is new. For you, it's being a parent; for your infant, it's the whole world! Give yourselves plenty of time together so that you can get to know each other and bond fully.

Sleeping and waking times will gradually fall into a day/night rhythm, but the speed at which this occurs varies hugely from child to child, and the most you should expect in any case will be six hours’ sleep at a stretch.

Even if it seems to others that all your baby does is sleep, feed and cry, they are in fact not only gaining in size and strength every day, but also becoming more alert and active. They are learning to lift and hold their head up when placed on their stomach and may even be able to turn it to look at something interesting.

Babies have an innate fascination with human faces. Although they only perceive faces in simplified form, and are unable to distinguish one from another, they will almost certainly recognise their mum and dad.

At around 6-8 weeks, the grand moment arrives when you get your first smile!

Crying patterns and behaviour become more sophisticated and reach their climax with the dreaded three-month colic. Thereafter, crying usually decreases steadily in intensity.

Arms and legs that had initially jerked uncontrollably start to calm down and become more coordinated. Your baby will begin to examine their hands thoroughly, putting them in their mouth and bringing them together over their chest. This is just getting ready for the next developmental step: intentional grasping.

From now on there's no stopping your baby

Learning to eat and drink

Learning to eat and drink

By now, your infant should have blossomed into a chubby, thriving baby. And whether you are still breastfeeding or not, your baby’s increased nutrient and energy needs will gradually call for more than milk alone. At around 6 months it will be time to introduce baby’s first solids. Weaning your baby any earlier than this is unnecessary as it could increase the risk of allergies.

From 6 months onwards, your child should be able to eat finely pureed solids. Start off gently with a few small spoons of mashed vegetable (such as pureed carrots) before your baby’s regular milk feed. Don’t be irritated if they spit it straight back out and start crying, the pureed vegetables feel and taste different to milk and also need to be eaten differently. Lots of babies love this new experience, but some don’t, so just wait a few days and try again.

Once your baby takes to this new form of feeding, you can begin to replace milk feeds on a month-by-month basis. Start, for example, with a vegetable, potato and meat mixture, then give them a whole milk and cereal porridge in the evening and finally, a cereal and fruit porridge at lunchtime. Download our Feeding Guide for detailed information, age-appropriate advice, recipes and much more.

If you want to cook your baby’s food yourself, take care when choosing the ingredients. When buying pre-prepared jars, it’s always worth looking carefully at the list of ingredients too – even if the print is tiny. One other important thing: your baby needs to drink as well as eat. This will help the food go down better and will aid digestion. Appropriate drinks to offer are water or strongly-diluted, sugar-free juice.

For more weaning advice and recipes visit Annabel Karmel, or to see our range of Annabel Karmel by NUK weaning products click here.

First teeth

At some stage, normally between 6-8 months, you will spot it: the first tooth – or rather, a little tip of white in your child's lower jaw. This is what caused of all those bad moods, those seemingly unprompted tears, all that gnawing on anything and everything and that constant dribbling. You will also now be able to help your baby bite down against the pressure pain by keeping him supplied with carrots, apples or cooled teething rings. It gets a bit trickier if you are still breastfeeding. Milk teeth are hard and sharp, and although many children keep themselves in check, some might give a little nip to show when they have had enough.

Your baby’s first teeth represent a great developmental breakthrough in all respects. They are the first step in learning to eat "like grown-ups" and also aid your child’s speech, as they help in the formation of correct, understandable sounds. Constant chewing motions also stimulate further jaw growth. At the same time, the milk teeth, which should all have appeared by the time your child turns three, play an important role in the alignment and spacing of permanent teeth. If a milk tooth is lost too early due to dental decay, the surrounding teeth might shift across into the gap. This could mean that there is no place for the permanent tooth when it arrives, forcing it to squeeze itself in and grow crookedly. So it makes sound sense to take good care of your baby’s milk teeth with regular cleaning from the moment they arrive. For more information and tips on your baby's first teeth, download our Mouth & Teeth Guide.

Mother with child

Milestones

Baby from top

From 4 months your baby will start moving out into the world – and if everything has gone well in the first few months, they will be confident in their surroundings, encountering everything with gurgling, radiant curiosity.

Your baby will now consciously and intentionally grab at anything coming their way. Mummy’s nose, Grandpa’s glasses and jacket buttons: your baby will investigate them all with huge concentration using their hands, eyes and especially mouth. Sometimes a single item will occupy their attention for minutes at a time.

At about six months there is another developmental breakthrough: the appearance of the lower incisors. This is a clear indication at last that your child is growing up and needs solids as well as milk.

At about the same time, your baby will begin to understand speech. They already know a lot of words designating the things, people and situations in their immediate environment. This includes words such as ‘Mummy’, ‘Daddy’, their own name, and even an emphasised “yes” or “no”.

Rolling, crawling and creeping: Your child is developing adventurous ways of moving to get close to things that were previously out of reach. So be careful, for example, when changing your baby’s nappy. You can’t just put baby down whilst you go and fetch a new romper suit any more!

But with the thrilling discovery that there is a world beyond Mummy and Daddy come the beginnings of separation anxiety at 6-9 months. During this so-called stranger anxiety phase, your child will regularly want to reassure themselves of the support that you are providing and which they need for their explorations.

One small step towards independence

Eating and drinking

Eating and drinking

From 10 months, most children are able to sit up, have quite a few teeth and will grab at anything within reach, including food. Your baby is no longer an infant and can gradually move from purees to finger foods and other solids. This is the time when you can begin eating as a family. In other words, you can put away your blender: gently mashing up the food or cutting it into small pieces will suffice.

Your child is now ready for a breakfast of cereal or bread and milk; cut the crust off a slice of wholemeal bread, butter it and cut it into soldiers so that your child can pick them up. Milk should no longer be in a bottle or breastfed, but in a learner cup (spill-proof, if possible).

Pieces of fruit or vegetables served alongside the bread, or as a snack between meals, will provide additional vitamins and are generally very popular with toddlers. Start by giving your child soft fruit and vegetables such as bananas, soft pears or nectarines, or cucumber pieces. You can then move on to vegetables that they can gnaw on, like carrot sticks.

It is important to note that fruit and vegetable pieces are not only good for your child from a nutritional point of view, but also encourage your child’s mouth muscles to develop and promote the onset of speech. This is another reason for supporting your child’s wish to eat like a grown-up – even if, to start with, not everything ends up in their mouth.

All about milk teeth

Milk teeth play a crucial role in determining how healthy and attractive your child’s permanent teeth will be. The first teeth act as place holders for their successors and therefore need just as much care as permanent teeth. The foundations for healthy teeth are already being laid when your child is breastfeeding. Your child learns the correct sucking motion (latch-on and swallow), which in turn prepares the jaw and oral cavity for their future functions: growing teeth, eating and speaking. For bottle-fed babies, the shape of the bottle’s teat is therefore extremely important. It should support natural jaw development and encourage your child to exert their tongue and mouth muscles in the same way that they would were they being breastfed.

The same also applies to soothers, of course. It makes a big difference whether your child uses their thumb or the corner of a bedspread to satisfy their innate need to suck. Particularly when the first teeth start to come through, a soother that supports natural jaw development is always the better alternative. We have all seen examples of protruding teeth, which can be the unfortunate result of prolonged thumb-sucking. But no need to fret: short-term thumb-sucking isn’t a problem, and your child should be able to manage without any form of soother from three years onwards.

It can be dangerous for your child’s teeth if they constantly carry around and suck on a feeding bottle. Fruit juice contains a lot of sugar and acid, which will attack and rot your child’s teeth all day long, with no visible signs. Food and drinks that are sugar-free or at least low in sugar constitute the best form of protection against tooth decay - alongside adequate fluoride intake. And don’t forget about brushing your child’s teeth! Your child should learn to brush their teeth as soon as they start to come through – at least once a day until they are two, then every morning and evening thereafter and always under your guidance. For more information, download our Mouth & Teeth Guide.

Milk Teeth

Learning to walk

Learning to walk

Even if your child is perfectly equipped for walking and has been revved up and ready to go for some time, the transition from crawling to standing, cruising and finally walking is a large one. Every step requires a lot of self-belief. Some babies are plucky and manage to walk at 11 or 12 months, whilst others take longer. It could be that your child would rather concentrate on developing their speech right now and doesn’t have the time for excessive physical exertions.

This is perfectly normal. You should not, under any circumstances, try to speed up your child’s development. Besides, your child is extremely sensitive to signs of dissatisfaction on your part, which is anything but beneficial in terms of their self-confidence. It's better if you encourage your child to achieve only what they are ready for, and what will more easily be crowned with success.

Once this huge step has been taken and your child is able to walk, their whole worldview will immediately change. Your child will begin to have a more conscious perception of their self. This is also the time for you to put a few "disaster prevention" measures in place, such as stair guards, child-proof windows and balconies or non-slip staircases. Sometimes though, a loving but firm “No” is a useful way of restricting your child's antics.

Potty Training

How many nappies have you changed by now? A thousand? Fifteen hundred? And instead of getting easier, it’s more and more of a challenge. Depending on your child’s temperament, nappy changing can become a battleground. But before 12 months, it’s still too early to be thinking of potty training. Even if your child loves using a potty, any successes will be flukes. This is because they must first learn to control their bladder and sphincter muscles – something that is virtually impossible before the second year of life at the earliest.

Many children (mainly girls) reach this stage at 12-18 months, but for most it’s a bit later. When the time comes, your child will let you know in their own way that they’re no longer comfortable in a nappy.

How quickly and effectively potty training is achieved depends largely on you. What your child needs now is a lot of praise and role models to copy when they go to the toilet, who can help them pull their clothes up and down. There is no need for any special toilet training – letting your child take the initiative is what is important. All else will follow in time.

Potty Training

Milestones

First Steps

Your child’s development is progressing: they’re learning to walk! First, they carefully pull themselves up, and then stand on their own two feet - then before you've had a chance to draw breath, they’re off! So watch out, exactly when they brave that first step varies hugely from child to child.

Next, the wonder of speech. Your little one can make themselves understood with the sounds they make. From now on, they will make frequent use of this, and their vocabulary expands accordingly.

Eating and drinking by themselves requires a lot of dexterity. Once you take this on board you will find it amazing that children can manage this at one and a half years – and won’t mind a bit of food missing the target now and then!

Once the first tooth appears, the remaining nineteen are swift to follow suit. Most children have nearly all of their milk teeth by the time they are three. As soon as you see that first little tip of white it’s time for daily tooth brushing. Ignore any protests – this is a must.

Your child’s social behaviour will change fundamentally during their second year. They will see themselves and others as discrete individuals and will begin to empathise with others, and demand the same – sometimes at the top of their voice – from those around them.

Their methods of play are also changing: they will look at books on their own and empty containers, build towers, and understand more and more the principle of cause and effect.

There’s no way of rushing things, but your child might be able to control their bladder and sphincter muscles before they turn two. They might then decide that they want to be out of nappies. But remember, take things at their pace.

Your child is beginning an intellectual journey

Eating and drinking

As your child enters their second year, they can gradually start sharing meals with the rest of the family. You can now use an appropriate selection of dishes to get your child used to healthy eating. But what is an appropriate selection of dishes?

The food that you serve should, of course, cater for your child’s nutritional needs both in terms of quantity and ingredients. It should enable your child’s growth and further development, whilst also helping them resist infections. But it is just as important to make sure that the meals are tasty. Make sure your child gets all the important nutrients they need by appealing to their palate and making eating fun.

If your child doesn’t like the taste of something straight away, offer it to them another day, but just remember that you should never force your child to eat something, or to clean their plate, as they know very well when they’ve had enough to eat. Also note that your child’s food consumption will go up and down depending on their personality, their mood on that particular day, and their developmental phase.

Children who are brought up to eat a healthy and varied diet will have a firm foundation for the rest of their lives. Research shows that if a child has been introduced to and enjoyed something at an early stage, they will continue to like it later on. Vegetable food products should therefore form the basis of your child’s diet and should be included in every meal, together with modest portions of meat. It is important for children to have plenty to drink, just like adults. For recipe and ingredient tips and suggestions, feel free to download our Feeding Guide.

Alternatively visit Annabel Karmel an expert in child nutrition who can offer plenty of advice and some tasty recipes!

Child Cooking

Milestones

24+ Months

Your child is learning to speak in sentences - “ball” will become “ball gone” and a little later: “ball gone again” – more and more word meanings are being combined together.

Your child’s motor development will appear to slow down a bit now. Don’t be fooled! Learning to run, jump, climb, throw and catch doesn’t come easily. These skills not only require more and more muscle strength and dexterity, but also a mature sense of balance.

Your child can hold a pen or crayon properly and is developing skills for communicating creatively with colours and shapes. They might well enjoy building tall towers as well. These all require ever more sophisticated sequences of movements.

Potty training can’t be forced upon your child. It will happen only when they want to take this step and it requires much insight and understanding. Both should come to maturity by your child’s third year.

Your child is slowly beginning to have a grasp of time. “One more sleep" is a dimension that they can visualise, so try to avoid making a promise for “tomorrow” and then not keeping it. By the same token, your child is able to remember things better and able to draw on their experience.

And they can also formulate expectations regarding the future. Sometimes, 'I want' doesn’t get, and this can lead to tantrums.

Your child will make their first friends. By interacting with other children, they will get to know and assume a variety of social roles. The time to start Nursery is slowly approaching.

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