Tot Life: 9-12 month development

Your baby is probably crawling like a pro (who knew a baby could move that fast!), pulling himself up to standing and, at some time during this period will probably take his first step.


Babies this age might not be saying many words, but they understand simple instructions and can follow them… or choose not to. The 9-12 month development phase is where your baby might first start to experiment with repeatedly dropping, throwing or saying “no” to see what happens next!

Baby development

At this age your baby’s comprehension is probably a long way ahead of his speech. So although he might still only be saying a couple of key words, and making lots of sounds, he can understand a lot of what you say. He’s also learning to understand a lot about communication from the tones that you use, your facial expressions and body language – that’s a lot for a little brain to compute before it starts churning out little sentences!

You can help build the blocks of communication by naming objects as you do things (“let’s put on your red shoes”), by pointing out objects (your toddler will point at things too and you can name them for him, or respond in conversation “oh yes, I see the car”) and by looking at simple board books together where you can name the objects.

As well as helping your baby learn, observe all the ways your baby is trying to communicate with you. He might point or wave at things, gesture in particular ways, or try and use the muscles in his face.

Motor skills
During this period your baby will probably try and pull himself to standing and even take his first steps. A lot of first-time parents think that their baby will walk soon after standing up or stepping for the first time, but it can take babies weeks or months to start taking multiple steps, cruising along furniture or actually walking independently. Be patient, your baby will walk in his own time. If you have steps in your house put up your security gates now. If you have low steps – just two or three – you can teach your baby to sit down and turn around, negotiating the steps backwards.

Once your baby starts pulling himself to standing he will also start investigating things above him – objects left close to the edge of tables, dressers, and bathroom cabinets are prime candidates for being pulled down by little hands.

You might think that the teenage years are when your children start testing you – plenty of time to get prepared, right? Wrong! At around 10 or 11 months your little person starts to understand that his actions in the world can have different consequences. He might repeatedly drop things to see what happens (you pick it up). He can understand simple instructions, and limits (e.g. what “no” means)… and can choose to ignore them. Now is good time to start emphasizing that when we want something we use ‘please’ and we say ‘thank you’ when someone does something for us.

Your baby will also start to play with other babies. At this age it is often referred to as “parallel play” because although babies may play in physical proximity to one another, they play independently rather than together. If your baby is a firstborn he is probably starting to experience having toys taken away from him by others and learning how to react. (If your baby is the second or third child in the family he is probably used to this already!)

Sleeping and settling
Babies of 10-12 months age need about 14 hours sleep in a 24-hour period. That usually means about 9-11 hours sleep at night plus one or two decent day naps.

If you are feeling exhausted because your baby is still waking during the night, he is probably ready to be night weaned – a baby of this age can get all the nutrients and hydration he needs during the day and early evening and doesn’t need to wake for feeding. Start slowly by cutting down feeds during the night, and ask your partner to help out – if you are breastfeeding your baby will know the smell of your milk and may demand to be fed back to sleep.

When putting your baby to bed at night your baby will probably know what to expect by now – but he might get the idea that he doesn’t want to go to sleep! Be firm but fair, continue to proceed with the same process and encourage your baby to go to sleep at approximately the same time each night.

If your baby wakes during the night and needs help going back to sleep, help teach him to self settle by keeping ‘night-time’ distinctive – talk in a quiet calm voice, keep your expression calm and soothing, keep the lights very dim, give him a little bit of water and lay him back down to sleep in his crib. In short, try to avoid giving your baby the impression that when he wakes up in the middle of the night yelling out and crying will result in getting out of bed, playing or feeding. Let him know that you are always around if he needs you, but nighttime is for sleeping.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends continuing to put your baby to sleep on his back at this age, to reduce the risk of SIDS. However, you might notice that since your baby can roll, he has started rolling over to sleep. To reduce the risk of SIDS make sure your baby has a firm matress which is fitted properly to the crib, and make the crib a distraction and accessory-free zone. Crib bumpers, decorations, toys etc are not necessary or conducive to good sleep. Consider using a well-fitted sleeping bag to keep your baby warm rather than blankets which can rise up over your baby’s head, creating a suffocation risk.

By now your baby will be experimenting with lots of different textures, tastes and colors in food. He should try foods that are different shapes, colors and which feel different in his mouth.

Babies of this age also enjoy finger food. Handling their own food and choosing what to eat off the plate gives them a sense of empowerment and they love to experiment with pushing foods through their fingers. To many parents dismay, babies of this age are very very messy!! Allowing your baby to experiment with his food like this can seem unnecessary and, when you are in a hurry, they can take forever, but be patient. To raise an interested eater who likes different types of flavors, textures and colors you need to let them experiment at the age when they are interested.

For mess control try purchasing a big piece of oilcloth (which you can easily wipe down) and putting it on the floor under the high chair. It might not be the prettiest thing, but at least you won’t be mopping the floor after every meal.

If your baby is threatening to become a little fusspot, resist the urge to keep giving him only the foods he likes. Give him some of the food that he likes but be sure to complement it with other new foods to try. You can also try offering new foods first at mealtime – when he’s really hungry – before offering the foods you know he’ll eat.

In terms of drinks, your baby only needs to drink breast milk, formula and water – there is no nutritional benefit to juice or other flavored drinks.

Red flags

The descriptions above aren’t specific to every child. If you think something “isn’t right” with your baby, don’t ignore it – go see your family physician. Failure to follow developmental milestones would be a red flag when it is persistent and occurs when your baby should be expected to be alert and have the energy to play and communicate.