Newborn babies are very top heavy – one of the reasons why moving their upper body can be so challenging. A newborn baby’s head is 25% of its body, compared to around 12-15% for adults. They also start life with very little muscle tone and pretty much only two reflexive skills: to suckle and to cry. But as the weeks and months progress, your little bundle of joy will develop an increasing mastery over their own body. Here is a look at the type of motor development you can expect:
Physical development milestones for infants
Here is a timeline to give you a general idea of when milestones in motor development are likely to occur:
- 4 months: Hand-eye coordination develops, an age at which most babies start reaching for items.
- 5-6 months: Baby rolls over
- 6 months: Baby should be sleeping through most of the night
- 6-8 months: Baby starts sitting up
- 6-9 months: Develops the dexterity to move from bottle to sippy cup
- At 7-10 months your baby will begin crawling
- At 9-11 months most babies will start standing with support
- At 10-14 months most babies will walk, with or without assistance
In one study, infants’ physical activity grew by about 4% each 3 month interval between the ages of 0 and 1. (Reynolds, 1-28-2020)
Normal motor skills development for babies
Babies are born underdeveloped, and the first 4 months of life are mostly spent catching up. They eat, sleep, cry, and poop. Plenty of physical development is taking place, but it doesn’t manifest itself in real obvious ways.
From my experience working in infant rooms I can tell you that most babies really start to become fun at around 5 or 6 months old. They develop more muscular ability and tend to become far more interactive. They start trying to move themselves, they babble and coo, and are generally a lot livelier.
From 6 to 9 months old your baby is in an exploratory phase. Most are mobile in one form or another, whether by crawling, scooting, crabbing, or scooching. They develop considerable hand-eye coordination, and can approach a small object with their thumb and first fingers to pick it up.
After perfecting the ability to grasp, it isn’t long before they learn how to purposefully release. Once discovered, they’ll practice this skill relentlessly (to the lament of their parents), throwing food from the high chair, dropping spoons, and so on. If you’re not careful, this can morph into an entertaining game for your clever baby. As child development specialists Dorothy Babcock and Terry Keepers warn, “Attentive parents who jump too fast to retrieve everything may find themselves exhausted victims of a never-ending pastime.” (1976, p. 93)
Learning to crawl
Of all the behaviors people think of when they think about babies, crawling is right near the top. Yet the truth is that some babies never crawl. Each baby develops their own unique method of locomotion. There are the butt scooters, the crab crawlers, the stomach wrigglers, the creepers, and of course, the traditional crawlers. Some skip crawling altogether and go straight from wriggling around to walking. While some parents might be concerned that children who don’t crawl in the traditional way might end up less coordinated, there is absolutely no evidence to support this.
Learning to walk
Most babies begin taking a few tentative steps sometime between 10 and 14 months. (Some tenacious youngsters may begin walking as early as 8- or 9-months, but parents shouldn’t expect this or push for it.) Around half of all kids will be walking by age 1, and 90% will be doing so by 15 months. (Howard, 2011)
From zero to twelve months old, babies should be barefoot as often as possible to help their feet form properly. When it’s cold outside and you need to dress up your infant, put her in soft, slipper-like shoes.
Infant walkers can actually delay a child’s learning to walk, and they also increase the likelihood of injury.