Baby Milestones: Baby Motor Skills Development
Balancing, grabbing, pinching, waving, clapping, crawling and walking are all examples of the many motor skills your baby will start to develop. In general there is a sequence to how these skills are learned and there are many things you can do to get your baby moving!
Development usually progresses from head to foot, with skills involving the head and arms developing before those that involve the legs and feet. Motor control also progresses from the center of the body outward, which means that your baby will be able to control her torso before she can manipulate her fingers and toes.
The following are some of the most important milestones from head to toe, and tips on how to develop baby motor skills.
One of the first things new parents are taught is to support their baby's head because the baby can't do it himself until about 3 months of age.
Once his neck muscles strengthen, he'll be able to raise both head and chest off the floor.
By about 7 months, your baby will attain full control of his head and will be able to hold it steady for a long time.
To help baby develop head control:
- Place your baby stomach-down on the floor. Do this several times a day to let him practice.
- Entice your baby to lift his head. Example, get down on the floor face-to-face with him.
Reaching and Grasping
Most infants start waving or batting at objects by 3 months of age. By 5-6 months, your child should master visually directed reaching, which means she's able to see an object and reach and grasp it with her hand.
By 8 or 9 months, as your baby learns to grasp with her thumb and forefinger, she can pick up surprisingly small objects such as crumbs of food. You'll have to keep a watchful eye on baby, because she'll be tempted to taste whatever she picks up.
Try these three suggestions to encourage development of baby's hand-eye coordination:
- While your baby lies on his back on the floor, dangle eye-catching objects above him. This gives him the opportunity to swipe at them.
- To help your 4-month-old baby practice grasping objects, hand her rattles or other safe items to hold. Things that make noise when she shakes them, or have a nice texture to gum on, may encourage her to keep her grip.
- Place several toys within reach. Let her grasp for things while laying on the floor.
At 4 or 5 months, your baby will be able to roll over in one direction only. She probably won't be able to flip herself in the opposite direction until 6 or 7 months.
You can encourage rolling by:
- Providing baby with plenty of space and opportunity to practice. The floor is always great for this.
- Praise and encourage her as she practices rolling.
- Hold an object of interest, such as a rattle next to her. This entices her to turn her body to see it.
Once a baby can roll over, sitting up isn't far behind. Babies have a whole new view of the world when they learn to sit up. It's as exciting for them as it is for their parents!
By about 4 months, your baby can sit when propped up. At 6 months, your baby may have some success sitting in a high chair, and sometime before 1 year of age, she'll perfect the art of sitting unaided.
To help baby practice sitting up:
- Place her in your lap, facing outward, while you sit cross-legged on the floor. Your stomach and legs will provide support for his back.
- Prop your baby on a standard pillow or a U-shaped pillow. Let him experience the sensation of sitting with your supervision.
Crawling and Walking
When will my baby start crawling?
Parents often view crawling and walking as the greatest physical milestones for their babies. While it's very exciting, you should remember that each child develops uniquely and at his own pace.
Most babies begin crawling somewhere between 6 and 9 months old. By this time, he will be sitting without support, and his major muscle groups will be strong enough to support his body.
The transition from sitting to crawling may occur gradually over several months. Some of the steps in between include learning to balance on all fours, rocking back and forth on hands and knees and eventually figuring out that pushing off with the knees will give them the forward motion they need to begin to crawl.
Not every baby crawls in the same manner, though. Some crawl forward, which typically happens, but some have their own methods.
Crawling backward is probably the result of uneven muscle tone (arms a little stronger than legs), but that will soon right itself as baby progresses in developing gross motor skills. As long as he gets moving in some way, he is perfectly normal, no matter which direction he chooses to go first.
When will my baby start walking?
Babies develop at their own pace. Typically, they start cruising (holding onto furniture to walk sideways) from 8 - 12 months old, and start walking from 10 - 15 months.
Walking is controlled by the two different systems in the brain, known as the motor and sensory systems. They control the leg movements, and maintain the posture and balance in walking respectively.
Your baby's body then awaits basic changes in body proportion - the legs grow longer, shoulders broaden, and the head smaller - making it easier to balance in an upright posture.
Walking depends on practice. Babies must clock many hours of standing, cruising and walking with some type of support before they can develop the strength and balance to walk on their own.
Some tips to help baby start walking:
- Use a playpen or play-center that is stationary
- Provide sensory stimulation (e.g. baby massage)
- Provide vestibular stimulation (e.g. rocking, bouncing, or swing baby)
- Breastfeeding may also help to strengthen baby’s muscles
If you’re worried about your baby’s development, here are a few warning signs to look out for:
1) Not exploring the environment in some way by 10 months of age.
2) Clearly favoring one side of his body.
3) Unable to coordinate her body in some way that allows both sides to work together.
If you suspect your baby having difficulty developing locomotive skills, speak to your pediatrician.
Now that your baby is moving around, it's essential that you provide him with safe places to play.
Here are some tips on how to baby-proof your home:
- Put a safety mesh along the stairway if the slats on a stair rail are more than 3 inches apart.
- Remove any small objects from the floor
- Remove anything that your baby is likely to pull. (Example: phone and electrical cords)
- Baby proof the entire house
- Use gates in front of stairs at the top and bottom
As mentioned, a baby’s development is unique. For example, some babies skip crawling and dive right into walking.