Your baby is getting busier by the day -- can you even remember those easy early weeks when she was content just to snooze in her bouncy chair? Now she can't wait to get her little fingers into everything. "They're exploring their environment," explains Beth K. Ryan, M.Ed., a senior child life specialist at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. "At this stage, their mobility can happen quickly. Just when you think your child is content to play on the rug with toys surrounding him, that's when he'll take off."
Simply staying in one place is also a milestone worth celebrating. "The moment when the child is standing for the first time is really important," says Donna Eshelman, a movement specialist and founder of Stellar Caterpillar, a Los Angeles-based business that helps babies reach their gross motor milestones in the first year. "Parents are often looking for the movement, but that standing and the alignment and stability is a skill in and of itself."
What to expect: Most babies this age can sit without support, roll over, and pull to stand. Some will take their first steps as early as 9 or 10 months, but that milestone might be several months off for others. "Walking is major accomplishment that varies with each child. Children generally reach mastery in this skill between 11 and 16 months is when kids really start to master that," Ryan says.
There's a downside, though, to having an early walker because he might be less aware of potential danger. "When kids walk really early, it is important to remember that they're still developing their cognitive skills, so their feet are taking them places but they don't quite know how to react," Ryan says. "That's when you really have to watch them."
Progression: Once your baby masters standing, he'll probably start "cruising" along the coffee table and other furniture. "Parents might see a lot of wobbling as those muscles are learning to work. And by the end of the month, the baby is taking steps and dropping and picking something up," Eshelman says.
Although some babies might skip milestones such as crawling, all milestones play an important role in movement, Eshelman says. The hands-and-knees crawling position, for example, allows the baby's hands and legs to bear more weight and the bones to get stronger, leading to more stability once a baby stands, she says.
"If the child hasn't already learned rolling or crawling on the hands and knees, there should be some encouragement to see if that can be developed before proceeding to standing and cruising and walking," Eshelman says. "Those later skills will be learned in a much more efficient way."
How to help: If you think your baby might be lagging behind developmentally, consider whether you're overdoing it on the baby gear. "There's an epidemic today of parents buying jumpers and ExerSaucers too soon, and then the baby doesn't learn to roll or cruise," Eshelman says. "With the ExerSaucer, the toys are right there in front of them, so there's no motivation to move."
Of course, every parent can use a safe place to keep baby busy while cooking dinner. Eshelman says a better bet is a playpen, where a child has more room to maneuver and practice gross motor skills. She also recommends gently massaging your baby's heels so that he focuses on using that part of his body to stabilize himself while standing. "It's a little reminder: 'Feel this place in your body,' and then they'll stand up and they'll use it better," she says.
Another great activity for this age: Put your baby on his knees in front of a box around 10 inches tall and encourage him to drum, Eshelman suggests. The alternating movements of his open hands while drumming helps with balance and can help him crawl faster, she says.
When you should worry: If your baby seems to be losing milestones she previously mastered or she just seems to have plateaued, you should talk with your pediatrician, Ryan says.
Don't freak out if: Your baby's behavior seems off temporarily. "Right before the next big milestone, you might see regression in eating and sleeping," Ryan says. "So it's kind of this dance, two steps forward and one step back, because they're really gearing up energy for that next big step." And don't sweat it if your baby is still on all fours. "If they're not pulling to stand yet, I tell parents not to worry as long as the other skills are progressing," Eshelman says. "It's really important that babies not be rushed."
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