Developmental Milestones: Infant Motor Development
Developmental milestones emerge at a different age for every child. Norms are derived from statistical averages of when children develop particular motor skills. In physical therapy, gross motor movements are the focus. I am often asked, what age is “typical” for ____? Below is a list of the first 6 major areas of gross motor development and when they should emerge. (Source: www.babydevelopmentnews.com)
Motor Development Phase 1: Head Control
Head control is the very first important and easily recognizable milestone your baby reaches.
If you note and listen carefully to the comments parents and friends make when seeing a very young baby, you’ll often hear remarks like how “strong” the baby is. And when they make this comment, you’ll find that they typically refer to your baby’s ability to control his head.
Head control is the ability a child develops to lift his head against gravity and hold it upright. Also, he must be able to turn his head from side to side to follow moving objects.
It is also important that your child’s eyes and head move independently to follow moving objects.
It is therefore not only your baby’s ability to pick up and move his head, but also to turn the head from side to side when following objects as well as keeping the head still when moving the eyes to follow objects.
Now, although there is no such thing as a “typical” or “average” baby, statistically determined ages for mastering head control closely stick to the following percentiles (age in months):
She easily turns her head from side to side when lying on her back
Good head control – She lifts her head to look ahead when lying on the floor
When using her arms for support, she lifts her head and chest when lying on the floor
What this means is, by 3 months roughly 90% of all babies have mastered the ability to easily turn their head from side to side when lying on their backs.
Infant Motor Development Phase 2: Rolling
Ask any parent what the main baby milestones are and they are sure to say sitting, crawling and walking. It’s really an exception when you hear any parent naming rolling as one of the main milestones. Most of this response is mainly conditioning.
Very seldom are we made aware that rolling is also a very important milestone. As a result, parents normally don’t see rolling as an important achievement.
The truth is, rolling is an extremely important achievement and milestone in any baby’s development. Rolling typically takes place from about 4.5 to 5 months. And babies usually start rolling from back to tummy.
Expect rolling to be fairly well developed by the age of 7 months. By this age your baby should be able to easily roll to both sides.
Sitting, crawling and walking are very big and important infant motor development milestones. But all of them rely very much on the ability to roll. Rolling forms the important basis of all balance reactions and movement reactions found in all later milestones.
In simple terms it means that rolling is the starting point for all other balance development. And…
Development of all other balance skills relies heavily on stimulation obtained from rolling.
Rolling also gives any child the first ability to move around to get to interesting toys and objects.
Now again, for the “average” baby (percentiles and age in months)…
She easily rolls over from back to front to back
Infant Motor Development Phase 3: Sitting
When your baby starts to sit it’s the first time she gets into an upright position. And it’s also the very first time she’ll see the surroundings from an upright position.
It is also the first time that your baby sees her environment from the same angle that she’ll see for the rest of her life. But, sitting also brings about another major change.
Sitting allows your baby to free both hands for play and discovering the surroundings in the upright position. Your baby gets lots of stimulation from using both hands for play.
One of the biggest discoveries I’ve made by watching babies sit is… how much your child is really stimulated by merely having both hands available to play with.
For the first time your child also gets the idea for shapes and sizes of immediate objects.
Try to imagine for a moment what your environment will be like if you can only see it from the floor. It’s almost impossible to imagine 3 dimensional features of anything in your surroundings.
When lying down, your baby’s hands and arms are never totally free to explore and discover. The floor always supports your baby’s upper body. Thus, movement is very much restricted. And your child never gets the chance to learn concepts such as “behind” when lying down the whole time.
So, for the “average” child (percentiles and age in months)…
She sits when supported with cushions or in the corner of a room or any other side and back support
She can sit alone for short periods…1/2 minute
Infant Motor Development Phase 4: Crawling
Crawling is a very important milestone for babies to learn and experience the spatial concepts like “under“, “over“, “in” and “out.” Crawling also gives babies vital sensory stimulation through their hands and knees.
The crawling action helps to correctly arrange the non-cognitive parts of the central nervous system. And these parts of the brain form the basis of learning and higher level development.
If infant motor development during this phase is plenty, further learning and development happens easily and without problems. However, if development was inadequate, further learning may become troubled and disorganized…often resulting in difficulty distinguishing between “left” and “right”.
Some professional claim that a baby should crawl about 50,000 times before moving on to the next development phase!
It’s also a very important development milestone on which your baby builds towards standing and eventually walking.
For the “average” child (percentiles and age in months)…
Moves forward on floor by “bum shuffling”, bear walking or crawling
Infant Motor Development Phase 5: Standing
One of the main goals for everyone from birth is to get to the standing position. That’s the one physical position from which we do everything else in life.
Standing is important for development of balance and taking the first steps in any direction. And is of course…the starting point for walking and running.
Despite what you may have read previously about standing…
I define “standing” as a baby’s ability to get up one her own from the floor into a standing position without holding onto or supporting herself against anything.
The main issue is the ability of the baby to get into a standing position by herself.
Okay, let’s say your baby gets to standing by holding onto something. Is there something wrong?
Needless to say there’s nothing wrong.
This is a normal development phase. Your baby will eventually learn and develop to stand by herself. It’s already a good sign that she gets to a stand.
For the “average” child (percentiles and age in months)…
She pulls herself upright to a stand on anything solid
Stands alone for short periods… a few seconds
Infant Motor Development Phase 6: Walking
Walking is functional moving. That’s how all of us get from one point to another.
But walking also forms the basis for further motor development like running, climbing stairs, taking part in sports, games, rope jumping, etc.
Make no mistake…activities like riding a bicycle, skateboards, surf boards all come from your child’s abilities to handle and cope with balance problems.
It’s fairly common to see children who were late developers to have problems with riding a bicycle and climbing stairs. Most of them are clearly not very mobile and agile.
You may think that once your baby is walking that you’ve reached the final motor development goal.
There are different stages of walking development.
- First is walking on different surfaces
- Learning to climb stairs
- Running and only then do…
- Sport and games development take place.
This is also where toys such as push and pull toys come into play. They play an important role to stimulate and encourage your child through these different stages of walking.
For the average child (percentiles and age in months)…
She walks well on her own
Again, keep in mind these are all averages and each child develops at their own pace. Use these markers as a tool to help gauge whether your child is developing as they should or if they could be behind in their development. If you have any concerns or your child is showing signs of developmental delay, consulting with your pediatrician and a physical therapist is the first step in your child receiving an intervention.
– Amanda, Physical Therapist