Is your baby about to 'skip' a milestone? Beware the 'Milestone Trap'!

Thanks for reading another blog by The Movement Team. We are a Physiotherapy Practice in Samford and Bray Park who's aim is to provide results focussed care with a fresh focus on you!

Is it a problem if your baby learns to walk before they have crawled?

When most people think about how a baby learns to move, they immediately think of the major milestones: roll, sit, crawl, stand, walk. The first achievement of these skills can create a lot of excitement, stress, competition and comparison. Delay or alteration of these can sometimes seem like a defining feature of a babies early life.

These are important skills that most babies learn on their way to being able to fully explore their environment, however we should be cautious in considering them as ‘must do’ steps. 


In fact it is reasonably common for infants to ‘skip’ milestones or perform them out of the established sequence (1. 2. 3.).

A recent article (4.) by Karen Adolf (a well respected Psychologist, Professor and Researcher in Childhood Development) has highlighted how even our research into babies development should move away from a concept of universal milestones and towards a better understanding the individual characteristics of each baby's development. This transition is suggested to help us better understand how and why babies develop skills rather than just understanding the average of many babies development.


When are 'milestones' most useful?

Milestones do provide a useful way to identify delays in motor skills. This is especially true in screening health clinics. Away from the clinical setting though, they can trap us into misunderstanding how babies learn those skills in the first place. 

Beware the 'Milestone Trap'!

Learning to move is not like walking up a staircase where one step leads to the next and on and on. Simplifying movement to a list of skills that 'should' emerge at specific ages is actually quite deceiving. Learning to move is highly variable, highly influenced by the infants environment and much more complex than a list of activities and ages. 

This is a great thing! Imagine if your baby was just pre-programmed and all their skills, strengths and weaknesses were pre-determined! How boring! Also how dis-empowering to you as a parent!

So what should you do if your baby seems to be 'skipping' a milestone?

If you are very worried:

If you are very concerned about your babies skills and development and have lots of questions, then the best general advice is to see a local registered health professional so that you can get individualised care and attention. Your GP is a good place to start or a professional whose expertise is with babies and development (e.g. a medical specialist, Child Development Service or local Paediatric Physiotherapy provider).

If you are not that worried... but still want to help:

If you are not currently concerned, but just curious and have noticed that your baby is showing a preference for one movement pattern over another or if they seem to be skipping some patterns all together, take a deep breath and step one is:

Don’t automatically think that something is wrong

Step two is to switch your thinking from seeing movements as something your baby 'likes' or 'dislikes' to things that are 'becoming easier' and things that are 'still difficult'.

Can you make something difficult easier?

Once you identify things as being 'difficult' (rather than disliked, hated or just weak due to fate) you can then start to work on helping your baby with all their positions by playing with them in a way that will help them practice those emerging skills just as much as they practice the skills they are good at!

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Interacting with ones environment! 

Interacting with ones environment! 

Has your baby had more chance to practice the thing they are good at?

Does that position gain them more attention, interaction, access to toys or some other advantage?

Conversely could the 'difficult' skill be that way (at least in part) because of a lack of motivation, opportunity to practice, or some other factor?

What could you do to help them learn something new?

Try putting yourselves in their position and think about what help you would need to convince you to do something that might be a little difficult but also something that potentially gives you access to something you don't currently have!

Take Home Messages: 

  • Don't fall into the 'milestone trap' that your baby will learn to do something just because they are old enough.

  • See all movement as a skill that needs to be practiced to be improved.

  • Use your unique knowledge of your own baby to alter their play to help them learn new things!


So this is written by a Physio... What even is Paediatric Physiotherapy?

I thought at this point it might be useful to provide a little extra information about Physio for babies. Paediatric Physiotherapy is a core (if not small) element of our profession, in most cases, Physiotherapy for babies focusses on 2 main factors…
1. Developing a understanding of how and why a baby might be doing something that is perceived as a concern (e.g. a motor skill that is delayed, odd, slow, fast, different etc) and
2. Helping parents to best help their baby learn to independently move and explore their environment!

As with all our blogs, I hope this general information has been useful! Thanks for reading.

Kind Regards,





B.Phty (Hons), G.D. Paed. Neuro. Rehab.

Tim has 10 years of Physiotherapy experience and is experienced in Paediatric (Baby’s and Children’s) Physiotherapy. 

Tim is co-owner and director of The Movement Team. Tim also holds an Advanced Physiotherapist position within a Child Development Service in the public health sector.

Tim has worked across the breadth of paediatric health (acute hospital, disability care, developmental, community and private clinics) and has completed numerous national and internationally recognised education courses in topics including developmental orthopaedics, high risk infant management, respiratory functioning and infant movement.

Tim's formal training consists of:

Bachelor Physiotherapy (Hons) - University of Queensland

Graduate Diploma Paediatric Neurological Rehabilitation - University of Western Australia

Tim additionally holds the following positions and memberships:

Chairperson of the Queensland Paediatric Physiotherapy Clinical Network 2013 - present

National Paediatric Group Member - Australian Physiotherapy Association

Tim has also led a Child Development Service.

Please note that the clinical information included in this article is of a general nature and might not apply to every family. Please see your local health professional for individualised developmental advice.

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