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Infant Motor Development
how your baby learns to move
from 1 to 6 months



please see also:
Newborn Development
Older Baby's Physical Development

During the first few months of his life your baby develops rapidly. There are so many things to learn: balancing his head, controlling his eye movements, discovering hands and feet and fingers and toes, grasping and holding objects, learning to roll over, rocking on knees and hands or learning how to sit.

It’s hard to give a week by week guide when your baby will have accomplished which milestone. The timing of normal infant motor development just varies to much. There is, though, a certain order in which your baby reaches his milestones.

Sometimes those milestones are reached one shortly after another; then again you’ll find long periods of time in between them. Thus any comparisons with other children (and they do automatically happen) should not be taken competitive. Instead step back and enjoy what your child is interested in at the time.

Your Babys Vision
Infant Motor Development

infant looking at light

At birth, your infant has the ability to use all human senses: taste, smell, hearing, touch and sight. Out of all of those, her vision is probably the one least developed. At birth she can only see in black and white and shades of grey.

At about 1 month of age she can only see clearly at a distance of about 20 cm (or 8 inch). Incidentally that’s about the same distance as between your head and her face while breastfeeding – how convenient. So when she’s feeding, she doesn’t only smell, hear and feel you, she learns how your face looks like too.

Gradually shell’ learn to focus better and better, especially if there is something interesting to look at the right distance. She’ll prefer faces and anything that’s bright: windows or shiny objects that reflect light.

If those objects move slowly, she’ll try to follow them. First she needs to turn her whole head, around 2 to 4 months she starts moving just her eyes. But as soon as those objects are out of sight, they’re forgotten.

Objects to focus on are also very useful to reduce those cross eyes, which many newborns have. Usually they already reduce a lot during the first week of your bays life and by 4 months most infants can coordinate both eyes. If not, please seek professional help, as this could indicate a problem. By this time most infants can also see all colors.

When your baby is 6 months old she’ll be able to focus so good, that she’ll find the crumbs on your carpet. Still, it won’t be until she’s 4 or 5 years old that her visual acuity is fully developed.

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Your Baby Learns Holding Her Head
Infant Motor Development

baby holding up his head

Towards the end of her first month your infant begins to get some control over the muscles of her neck and learns to hold her head.

By about 6 weeks most infants neck muscles are strong enough to hold their heads if they’re held upright and still. If you move or tilt them just a little they’ll still need your hand to support their head.

In the following weeks your baby gains more and more muscle control downwards from her neck including her shoulders. By around 3 months can control her head so good, that she might need your support only when you pick her up from a laying position or out of her car seat.

As she gains more and more weight, her proportions change as well. That makes it easier for her to hold her head but all her positions and postures change too. You’ll find that she’s uncurling from her newborn position.

Now she can lie flat on her back which frees her arms and legs to kick and play with. Soon if pulled gently into sitting position by her hands, she takes her head with her, without dropping it backwards or resting her chin on her chest. When you hold her on your shoulder, she can keep herself upright now and doesn’t always curl in anymore.

On her belly, she can now stretch those legs out underneath her and turn her head to either side. She also practices to lift her head of the mattress. Once she can do so for a few seconds, she’ll try to take some weight on forearms, lifting her shoulders too.


Tummy Time 

Tummy time is very important at that age, especially as nowadays most babies sleep on their backs to prevent SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Tummy time strengthens your babies back and neck muscles and allows them to learn to crawl. However, most babies get tired very easily and get frustrated of not being able to hold their heads.

You can ease that by laying her on your tummy when you are sitting in a reclined position. That way lifting the head doesn’t take that much strength. 

Carrying him in a baby sling or wrap is another good way to support him. It gives more opportunity to exercise those muscles than lying in a pram but supports the head when tired too. It also provides that comforting security of having mom or dad close by.

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Your Baby Starts Grasping at Objects
Infant Motor Development

baby grasp, holding onto finger

Around 2-3 months of age your baby will also start to grasp at objects you put in front of him. 

At first he just reaches out to touch things. Controlling his hands and estimating the distance between his hands and eyes correctly is quite an achievement for him. 

At this stage he loves things to swipe at. Making them swing or even rattle is fun. When you want to give him a toy, you may want to wait until he reaches out for it, before putting it in his hand. By 3 to 4 months, he can hold things briefly.

Next he’ll try to get hold of things. This not only involves reaching out to touch the toy and measuring the distance. He also needs to learn to close his hand when he has actually reached the toy. 

At first he’ll almost certainly close his hand before reaching it. Now swinging objects are more frustrating than entertaining. The careful and slow reaching that he practices during this time, is easiest when propped up in a sitting position.

Your baby will enjoy touching things when he’s sitting on your lap. A hard to break necklace on your neck can keep him entertained for quite a while. Removing glasses is another favourite where half the fun lies in the adults reaction to his attempts.

Your Baby Learns Rolling Over
Infant Motor Development

Many babies can roll from their sides back onto the safety of their backs when they are only 9-10 weeks old. But really trying to roll over they usually start later, at about 3 months of age.

Reminder

As babies can roll very sudden it is important to always watch out with high surfaces like change tables.

First they might only roll accidentally. At about 6 month most infants have figured out how to roll onto their tummies turning their heads first, than their shoulders, trunk and hips.

A little later, usually by about 8 month, most babies will also have learned to roll from front to back.

Things you can do to help your baby learn to roll are:

  • giving him some floor time without any restrictive clothing,
  • avoiding crumpled up surfaces, that could hinder him in her attempts
  • making his surrounding interesting by giving him something to look at or touch
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Your Baby Practices Sitting Up
Infant Motor Development

baby sitting up

The skill to sit up is another important step in your infant s motor development. It frees her hands to reach for and grasp all those interesting toys.

At first your infant can’t control her back enough to sit. As she learns to hold her head steady and the muscles of her upper back get stronger and stronger, she might enjoy being pulled up gently into sitting position. 

If her back muscles are strong enough, she won’t curl right over anymore. Instead she can hold her head and shoulders leaving only the middle of her back and her hips still saggy.

Between 3-4 months trying to sit up may become one of her favourite things to do, using your hands as handles to pull herself up on. When no hands are around, she might just lift her head clear of the floor. About a month later she can lift her head and shoulders so far that your infant can get a glimpse of her own feet.

It won’t be until about 5 months of age that your infant gains the control of her lower back needed to sit without support by someone else. Still she’ll be leaning forward extremely because she still doesn’t have the balance needed.

By about 8 months most babies can sit without support.

Steps towards Your Babies Crawling
Infant Motor Development

Some babies look as if they’re going to crawl before they’re 6 months old, few actually do. Most babies start to crawl at around 7-9 months of age.

As a preparation for crawling, tummy time is important. The happier babies are on their tummies and the more time they actually do spend like this, the more practice they get to hold their heads up, put their weight on their forearms and pull their knees up.

On the other hand, babies that dislike lying on their tummy, maybe because they can’t see so good what’s going on, don’t necessarily start crawling later than others. They might instead just do it quicker after their first attempts. Others again skip it all together preferring to walk instead. And that is fine too.

Newborn Development Older Baby's Physical Development


Stages of Child Development
Physical Development

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