The third month is a key time in your baby's behavioral development, says Donna Eshelman, a movement specialist and founder of Stellar Caterpillar, a Los Angeles-based business focused on helping babies reach their gross motor milestones in the first year. "The first couple of months are really about feeling their bodies, sleeping and eating," Eshelman says. "With the third month, there are the first signs of movement per se. The kicking really gets stronger and begins to take them somewhere, like onto their stomach. It's really an important turning point in their movement."
What to expect: Your baby's movements are becoming more focused and steady. "The biggest thing is the head control that a baby gains," says Kenneth Wible, M.D., medical director of the Pediatric Care Center at Children's Mercy Hospitals & Clinics in Kansas City, Missouri. "They should be able to hold their head steady if you hold them upright. Sometimes if they get their arms under them they will lift their head up." Your little one will also start to use her hands more and might put her hands together in front of her. "They're not going to take things, but if you present them with a toy or something else that attracts their attention they'll hit it with their fist," Dr. Wible says.
Progression: As the month goes on, your baby will continue to gather strength in his core, lower, and upper extremities. "During that third month they're really developing their coordination with their arms; they're learning the control of their arms and the awareness. Rattles with sounds can be very helpful because it gives them feedback about where their arms are." Toward the end of the third month, you might see baby roll from his back to her tummy or vice versa, Eshelman says.
How to help: Your baby should get plenty of tummy time every day. "That's such an important time," Eshelman says. "It's like a cornerstone of motor developments." The pressure of their hands on the floor during tummy time connects them to the muscles of the hands and shoulders, developing strength.
The exercise your baby gets now can also pay off in the future. "Later, around months six and seven, they will sit up for the first time with gorgeous posture if they've had a lot of practice," Eshelman says. "A lot of times parents will put them sitting up too soon, and their spine will curl backward because they don't have strength."
Encourage your baby to explore his surroundings in new ways, Dr. Wible says. "Allow them to touch their feet to surfaces, and challenge them with toys and attractive objects that encourage them to try to reach or grasp for something," he suggests.
Eshelman encourages toys that make a sound based on a baby's movement, such as a rattle, "as opposed to something that's electronic and lights up when you push a button," she says. The unplugged rattles develop movement of the hands and arms where the electrical toys develop movement of the finger. "It is very important to choose rattles that are a size that fits into Baby's small grip. A simple maraca or barbell shape is the perfect first rattle," she adds.
When you should you worry: If your baby isn't moving his arms or legs in a symmetrical manner or seems to favor one extremity over another, mention it to your pediatrician -- it could be a sign of a central nerve injury, Dr. Wible says. But he doesn't like to dwell on red flags at this age. "I've seen babies with red flags and they turn out to be fine," he says.
Don't freak out if: Your baby seems slow to reach gross motor milestones. "If the baby doesn't put [his] hands together, [or he doesn't] necessarily babble but make other sounds, that's OK," Dr. Wible says. "They do things at their own pace and their rate."
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