If you have an infant, she's probably content to sit quietly and stare up at you from the comfort of her bouncy seat, occasionally wiggling or waving her arms and legs. Flash forward a few months, and you'll wonder how your adorable, immobile little baby turned into the blur of activity you chase after every day.
Though it seemed to happen effortlessly, your little one put a lot of thought and muscle into learning how to crawl to her toy box or send the coffee-table coasters flying. Needless to say, you've got your work cut out for you -- start babyproofing, and warn the pets. And try to enjoy the show. There's nothing more satisfying to a little one than being able to do what she wants to do or get where she wants to go using her own steam. Read on to see how your baby learns to put her body in motion.
At first, your infant's neck seems incredibly fragile and floppy, far too weak to support that enormous head of hers! But if you place her on her stomach, even at just 6 weeks old, she'll lift her head for a few seconds at a time. This practice is important because it helps strengthen baby's neck muscles and piques her curiosity about her surroundings. And each time she lifts her head, she learns to coordinate her head and eye movements, which allows her to see a little bit more of her environment, however blurry.
It will take her several months to work up the strength and coordination to lift her head while lying on her back. By the time she's 4 months old, she'll be able to prop herself up on her elbows from any position and take in everything from her mobile to the rocking chair.
Rolling around isn't the most effective means of locomotion, but it's certainly lots of fun for your baby, who up to this point has had to make do with waiting for you to get him where he wants to go. Most babies rock and roll from their stomach to their back between 4 and 7 months. But this ability didn't arrive overnight. You've probably noticed that when your baby is on his stomach, he lifts up his head and neck and pushes his arms and legs away from the floor, as if he were trying to fly. This particular form of baby yoga builds up the strength he needs to roll over, and eventually to sit up and crawl.
These days, though, some kids don't get as much of this type of strength training as they need. Because of concerns over sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), many babies spend most of their time on their back, so they don't get much opportunity to challenge their muscles by lying on their tummy and lifting up their head, arms, and legs. To help your baby become stronger, have him spend some supervised time on his tummy each day. Encourage him to reach and use his muscles by placing interesting toys in front of him. He may not like it at first, but eventually he'll adjust to the feeling. Soon enough, he'll be reaching for toys and rolling away.
Once your baby begins to conquer your house on all fours, usually between 7 and 10 months, a clean floor isn't the only thing you'll need to worry about. A crawling baby is a confident and curious baby, ready to upend laundry baskets and tear apart kitchen cabinets, so stock up on those baby locks!
Fortunately, your squirmer will give you advance notice. Babies who are getting ready to crawl often crouch on all fours and rock back and forth, or push with their hands and fall back with a bump. This helps them get a sense of how to establish balance for when they actually do crawl. Crawling styles are as varied as babies themselves. Some kids slither along on their stomach like a snake; others propel themselves across the room with straight arms and legs, or even travel backward. Most kids eventually do learn to coordinate digging in with their knees and pushing off with their hands to effectively get where they're going.
But learning to crawl doesn't just help baby move from one room to the next -- or merely provide him with the ability to dig his hands into the cat's litter box. Crawling helps your child navigate your house, judge distances, and flex her memory skills so she can get back to where she came from, all of which prepares her for life in the big-kid lane.
Sitting up often happens a little later than rolling -- between 6 and 8 months. Though baby uses the same muscles and strengthening exercises to achieve both of these goals, it will take him some time to figure out how to place his legs and balance his upper body. Before he can actually sit, though, your little acrobat will try lots of interesting ways to jockey himself into position. Most likely, he'll lift his chest and try to push up with his arms. Give him lots of practice by placing him in a sitting position and allowing him to wave his arms around to achieve balance. It's also helpful to prop him up on arranged pillows so he can see the world from a new vantage point and feel what it's like to be upright.
Learning to stand is a segue from crawling to walking, so you'll be seeing lots of little fingerprints on tables as your child learns to pull himself up. You may hear lots of crying, too; that's because once he stands up, he may not be able to get back down. Show him how to bend his knees and lower himself to the floor.
Between 12 and 18 months, your baby will officially become a toddler, moving from place to place on her own two feet as fast as she can. Walking usually starts as cruising -- taking steps while holding on to a piece of furniture. When she's mastered placing one foot in front of the other while maintaining her balance, she'll start to take a few small steps on her own -- with lots of falls along the way. Luckily, when your child does fall, she probably won't hurt herself, so it's best not to make a fuss that could distract her or make her think she's really hurt.
Expect baby's first steps to be sort of awkward and ungraceful. Instead of quick, purposeful strides, her gait will look more like a wide-legged lurch. It'll take a month or two before she's moving along smoothly. By the time she nears 2, she'll probably be able to outrun you.
Walking doesn't just change how your child gets from place to place; it changes her whole outlook. Some children find the ability to toddle away from Mom and Dad as scary as it is exhilarating, so a new walker may be clingier than usual. Some kids may get frustrated and cry more often because they can't move around as quickly as their older siblings.
And don't worry if your little chatterbox suddenly falls silent when she learns how to walk; she's concentrating so hard on perfecting this big new skill, she might abandon others for a short time.
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