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Do You Have Excessive Milestone Anxiety? by Amalah for Alphamom.com

Milestone Anxiety

By Amalah

Hi Amalah,

My daughter is 8 months old, and she’s the best. Chubby, healthy, happy. I’m obsessed with her (duh). But the older she gets, the more preoccupied I become with milestones she isn’t reaching.

At 8 months and some change, our babe doesn’t crawl yet – she rolls all over the place, would seemingly sit straight up forever, reaches and contorts herself every which way to get at toys out of her reach, etc. She scoots a little but can’t crawl and doesn’t pull up at all. She can support weight on her legs and thinks being stood up with assistance is funny, but doesn’t sustain.

These motor skills are my concern, but really it’s everything – she doesn’t have any teeth yet; is she delayed? She can’t say “mama” yet; is she delayed? She isn’t into a lot of different foods; is she delayed? Over and over again with this catastrophizing on my part. No matter how many cognitive or motor achievements she reaches, I agonize over the ones she hasn’t. She’s in daycare while I work, and the precious little time I get with her starts to feel like baby bootcamp, at the end of which I pore over whether I should have forced more time practicing crawling, standing, sipping, etc.

I think I’m the problem here?

Does it sound like my daughter is behind in the motor skills arena? Should I be concerned she doesn’t show that much interest in becoming mobile yet?

But a bigger question – how do I not let this anxiety consume me? This is so against my personality type, and I feel crushed under the weight of it. I worry she’s not getting what she needs. But I recognize there’s also a fear that if she’s not ahead or within the normal range for reaching every milestone, it somehow reflects poorly on me as a mother. Every day my heart hurts more feeling like I’m somehow failing her.

Should I relax and trust she’ll get there when she’s ready? Or should I be hyper-vigilant about every exercise and activity that promotes growth in these areas? How do I find a balance?

Please help! Thank you!

Oh goodness, your daughter sounds totally, 100% normal!

Your anxiety levels, on the other hand, do not.

I don’t mean that in a “YOU ARE A WEIRD ABNORMAL HUMAN” way at all — I have struggled most of my entire damn life with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and totally understand what it feels like when anxiety (and fear, it’s closely-related partner in crime) decide to run away with your brain.

Postpartum depression often manifests as anxiety.

I’ve written and deleted a few paragraphs here, because I’m dancing around a story that has haunted me for years, and popped back into my head after I read your letter. Which is not really about your daughter’s motor skills.

When her son was 10 months old, Cynthia Wachenheim strapped him to her chest in a carrier and jumped out of the eighth-floor window of her apartment. He miraculously survived; she did not. She left behind a 13-page “confession” of all her failings as a mother, detailing an unshakable, irrational belief that her son was grievously delayed and damaged as a result of those failings. He would never walk, never talk, never have a normal life, and she could no longer live with the crushing guilt of it all.

(Her son bumped his head on the floor, and later rolled off a bed. She grew convinced, despite doctors telling her otherwise and all evidence to the contrary, that her son developed cerebral palsy and autism as a result. A few days after she died, he took his first steps. He is a perfectly healthy, normal child, and this story breaks my heart on just about every level.)

Obviously, this was an extreme case — postpartum depression/anxiety giving way to full-blow psychosis — and I don’t bring it up to suggest that your anxiety is anywhere near that dangerous of a level.

But. Postpartum depression often manifests as anxiety, and unfortunately a lot of cases (like Cynthia’s) go undetected and untreated, because it doesn’t look or feel like “depression.” (We’ also need to get the message out that PPD and other postpartum mood disorders don’t always show up right after giving birth, but can actually develop months later, so we need to stay vigilant about this shit.)

And of course, it’s a perfectly normal thing to worry and fret over your child’s development! And we mothers tend to shoulder an awful lot of extra responsibility and guilt and blame for how our children turn out — just think about all the pressure and judgment about what we eat/didn’t eat during pregnancy, did we breastfeed or not, vaccinate on the schedule or not, co-sleeping or sleep training, go back to work or stay home, etc. etc. GAAHHHHHAAAAHHHH.

But I am worried about you. What you’re describing is intrusive, bordering on obsessive, getting worse with time, out of character for you, and impacting your ability to just enjoy your time with your baby.

You don’t need to live and parent under this crushing cloud of fear and anxiety and heartbreaking self-blame.

(Who is going to crawl, and get teeth, and walk and talk and do all of those things on her own schedule, on her own time Please, just play and snuggle with your baby!)

I want you to say something to someone. Your partner, your doctor, a therapist, all of the above. You don’t need to live and parent under this crushing cloud of fear and anxiety and heartbreaking self-blame.

I also want you to look your worst fear in its big fat face and laugh at it. Out loud. Give it the actual finger. Strip it of its power. A developmental delay? Pffftt. You can handle that, should it come to that. (Which, again, there is NOTHING in your letter suggesting that there’s any evidence to support your fear of delays. This is more of a cognitive exercise for anxiety.) So she does something late. Or needs occupational therapy or early intervention at some point. Lots of kids do, and you know what? Their parents are good parents. You’d probably never think half the mean things you’re thinking about yourself about another mom with a delayed child, so tell those thoughts to GTFO. I mean, my son had all sorts of delays. Speech, motor skills, social, you name it. He has autism! He is, I admit, what many worried new parents might consider something of a worst-case scenario. And he is amazing. He is perfect. I didn’t fail him — I fought like hell for him! I got him all the help and support he needed because I am a badass not to be messed with when it comes to my kids.

And so are you. And you’re going to help her by getting some help and support for yourself, right now.

(From the editor:  If you’re concerned about yourself or someone you know, check out Postpartum Support International’s website or call their helpline (800-944-4773). Your OB or midwife or primary care doctor should also be able to help you — it’s just important to CALL SOMEONE. )

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Lisa Williams
Guest
Lisa Williams

I don’t want to add fuel to your fire, but there is a wonderful website/blog called “The Inspired Treehouse” that is written by pediatric physical therapists. They have milestones and red flags for various age ranges. I know that I missed many of the red flags with my daughter, and thankfully our pediatrician caught them and sent us to physical therapy for a bit. It was super interesting, educational, and enlightening. Even if she is missing milestones (mine didn’t crawl until she was 366 days old) I can assure you that as a 4 yr old now, she is perfectly… Read more »

Brenna M
Guest
Brenna M

Also know that *you can’t achieve milestones for them*. This is important to realize. They will get there when they can. my son didn’t walk until he was like 17 months. My boyfriend’s kid didn’t until she was like 20 months. They are both perfectly fine now.

Sometimes there are social services that you might be able to qualify for. My son gets a little speech therapy (free to us, county pays). So there are ways you can help, but you can’t do it for them.

Carolyn Russell
Guest

Amalah brilliantly covered the important part of the article about the anxiety, but I thought I might offer something up about the crawling issue – some babies never crawl. My three kids ALL army crawled for the longest time (and it starts off with an inchworm like scoot to try to reach something, so it kind of slowly becomes mobility instead of just stretching forward) before crawling for a short period of time and then moving on to walking. My sister’s baby rolled everywhere for a long time before moving to crawling. My friend’s baby NEVER crawled but instead got… Read more »

Caroline Bowman
Guest
Caroline Bowman

Oh my. My heart goes out to you. Your baby is entirely and completely normal. I have 3 boys, they all the same. The first one hit literally every milestone bang on time or very, very close to. Very verbal, crawled between 8-9 months, walked at just over one. Divine little boy, still is at nearly 12. Guess what? He has a very mild case of Asperger’s and a broad reading disability. He also has an IQ of 160 and needed OT for YEARS. Years, due to low muscle tone and he has quite bad ADD. The second little boy… Read more »

Jaclynn
Guest
Jaclynn

so i’m coming from the side of my daughter is delayed. she’s almost 9 months old and has not hit a single milestone with the exception of her teeth are juuuuuust starting to come through (and believe it or not, it’s COMPLETELY normal and not unheard of for babies to have 0 teeth by their first birthday, there’s absolutely nothing that can be done to hurry that up) we’re very blessed to have boston children’s hospital practically in our backyard and have seen numerous specialists there, as well as having access to some of the best EI services mass has… Read more »

Kim Crichton-Struthers
Guest
Kim Crichton-Struthers

While you reach out for help for you, you can also check this site for developmental screening questionnaires. If you sign up they send you a reminder to complete them at the appropriate times and it will flag any concerns to take to your paediatrician. http://www.ndds.ca/language.php It also gives fun suggestions for each age group to work on upcoming skills.

Lindsay
Guest
Lindsay

My son was delayed in many milestones! He received physical, occupational, and speech therapy all before the age of two. I felt like his difficulty in reaching milestones was a reflection of my parenting which is absolutely untrue! Parents can get so superior when their child reaches a milestone early that it makes you feel terrible when your child doesn’t measure up. Guess what? There is nothing superior about their parenting or child. When my son finally walked at 19 months I swore I would never judge a parent based off a child’s milestones again. You sound like a very… Read more »

Natalie
Guest
Natalie

I have 5 kids and they all developed at a different pace, depending on their personalities. Two of them were extremely stubborn go-getters who had to do everything early, one was “average,” hitting those milestones right on track, one was super chill and could care less about crawling when he had older siblings to bring him toys or carry him around like the little Prince he thought he was (that one went from army crawling straight to walking), and one had delayed speech due to bad ear infections that caused his hearing to be muffled for a while before getting… Read more »

Erin
Guest
Erin

I swear I read this and thought, “Wait. Did I write to Amalah and forget?!” My daughter is 8 months old and in nearly exactly this same boat–except she doesn’t babble…but she eats a ton of different foods. And I am inexplicably anxious about this, despite the fact that her 4yo brother was ALSO delayed with hitting milestones and it was totally no big deal. He didn’t crawl until he was 1, didn’t walk until he was almost 1.5, didn’t really talk until he was 20 months old. I wasn’t really worried about it then…so why am I worried about… Read more »