Do we really need baby development reviews?

Everyone who becomes a parent has to face sleepless nights, the angry breastfeeding debate, poo-stained clothing and the baby development review questionnaire. 

The review asks various questions intended to figure out whether your baby is meeting their milestones and healthy. 

They’re accompanied by appointments and chats with the health visiting team, where they ask additional questions like whether you’re managing to keep it together amidst the stinky nappies and non-stop screaming.

On the one hand I get it. The health reviews – generally carried out at six to eight weeks, nine months and two years – are intended to catch any serious problems. 

They can help to ensure babies with speech, physical or learning disabilities get the help that they need. 

But. I also think that the development reviews can make parents worry when there is absolutely nothing to worry about. 

For my eldest daughter’s nine-month review, I remember filling out the questionnaire dutifully, being totally honest with my answers.The trouble was, a lot of the questions involved things I had never done with my baby. 

Does she try to poke at or pick up a raisin inside a clear plastic bottle?

Err, I don’t know, I have no raisins stuffed inside a plastic bottle. 

Does she follow basic commands?

Err, she’s nine months, I don’t command her to do anything!

Others she was doing occasionally but not consistently. This was especially the case in the communication section of the questionnaire. 

I didn’t worry about it until I got to the review appointment, when the health visitor rather bluntly told me my baby was in a “grey area” for communication. She said I would need to make a GP appointment when my daughter was 18 months old if she still wasn’t speaking. 

I was worried, concerned that she was behind and would never open her mouth to speak. 

Now I know that this was utter rubbish. 

To expect a nine-month-old to be making sounds like “da-da”, playing along with nursery games, follow commands and say at least three words is crazy. How many nine-month-olds actually fulfil every single one of the items in the communication section of the questionnaire? Neither of mine did, but I’ll confess that for my second child I just ticked them all. Because I knew my baby was absolutely normal, and I didn’t want to have to debate this with a health visitor who had only just met my baby. 

Milestones are not set in stone. Babies don’t wake up at six months magically able to eat three meals a day. Babies don’t wake up at nine months playing pat-a-cake. 

Some babies hardly say a word even at 18 months. 

Does it mean they have a problem? In the vast majority no it absolutely does not. It means they’re normal human beings who are developing at their own pace. By the time they’re all five and at school, you won’t be able to shut them up or stop them from trying to extract raisins from plastic bloody bottles. 

The trouble with all of this is, the development reviews can really knock your confidence. 

During the confusing first year with my eldest I looked for answers absolutely everywhere. 

When it came from official sources, such as a health visitor, I assumed it to be absolutely true. 

After nearly five years of being a parent, I now know to trust my own instincts above all others. 

And that’s what I recommend everyone does. Fill out the questionnaire. Raise any concerns that you have. But remember that no-one knows your child better than you. 

Don’t let a questionnaire define your baby’s wellbeing or your abilities as a mama. 


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