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Milestone paranoia

Obsessed with when baby’s hitting his milestones? Yeah, we know you are.

When you have a new baby, your whole life revolves around firsts: first bath, first smile, first tooth, first roll, and first uninterrupted night of sleep (yes!). You read up constantly on the next milestone and wait nervously for baby to perform it at a perfectly scripted interval.

But sometimes, he doesn’t.


Some moms take developmental delays in stride; others freak the freak out. If you’re the latter, the first question to ask yourself is what’s fueling your anxiety, says author and licensed clinical psychologist Joy Browne PhD (aka Dr. Joy). “Are you genuinely concerned about your baby, or are you feeling like parenthood is a competition and you’re losing?” she asks. The desire for our babies to measure up is as old as motherhood itself. “Moms have always been competitive,” she says. “It’s not that the impulse to compare your child to others is new, but with the Internet and social media, the audience has increased exponentially.” This can make already anxious moms spend hours online comparing their babies to others and asking the same question over and over and over: Is my baby okay?


Women who become obsessed with milestones might be nervous first-time moms, chronic overachievers or moms who’ve been traumatized by an earlier experience (such as a developmentally delayed child or sibling). “There can be very real reasons for feeling anxious about your baby’s development,” says Tina Tessina, PhD, a licensed psychotherapist in Southern California and the author of 13 books, including “The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make Before Forty.”

But the reality is, babies develop at wildly different rates, and just because yours takes longer to learn to sit up than your cousin’s baby did, doesn’t mean anything is wrong. “Babies aren’t robots you plug in and then wait for them to achieve certain things at certain intervals,” Browne says. “I tell moms that the operative word is range. Some babies will hit the beginning, some the middle and some the end of the given range for any particular milestone. It’s important to have perspective about these things.”


Rather than relying on unqualified virtual strangers to determine whether or not your baby is progressing appropriately, Browne suggests saving serious concerns for baby’s doctor. “Most pediatric offices have hotlines with trained nurses on hand to answer questions,” she says. It can also help to join a mommy-and-baby group. According to Tessina, women with a support group experience far less anxiety than those navigating motherhood without one. “Surrounding yourself with other women with babies the same age can be incredibly eye-opening,” says Browne. “You might realize that lots of babies his age are still having trouble sitting up. It’s not about comparing, but finding comfort in that range.”


In the very worst-case scenario - you sense your child isn’t on track and you discover that you’re right - remember that agonizing about it won’t change or improve the situation. In fact, obsessing is more likely to make you miss something than catch something because you’re too hyper-focused to see the big picture, says Tessina. “Worrying doesn’t do anyone any good,” she adds. “Knowledge, on the other hand, is power.”

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