A Step-by-Step Guide to Baby's Motor Development

In just one year, a floppy infant morphs into a perpetual motion machine. Along the way, they'll learn to sit, scoot, and stand. Stay ahead of the game with this step-by-step guide to motor development.

Baby stands at play station
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01 of 06
baby standing in crib reaching for camera

Motor skills involve the movement of small and large muscle groups, and they can be categorized as fine and gross, respectively. Every infant develops at a different rate—something doctors are quick to remind stressed-out parents—but certain types of motor skills tend to form around specific times. That's why your pediatrician will likely ask you about your child's movements and activities during every check-up. Knowing what to expect is important to helping your baby's development, so we broke down a first-year timeline for motor skills.

02 of 06

Pushing Up

baby girl crawling
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When It Happens: Your baby won't be able to push up on their own until they're strong enough to lift their head, which is usually around 2 to 3 months. Soon after that, they'll try using their arms to lift their torso, too. The first attempts will bring them only part way: While on their tummy, they'll raise their head, prop up on their elbows, and look around. By 6 months, they should be able to push up onto their hands.

What It Takes: Pushing up requires practice. Most babies hate being on their stomach, but tummy time is absolutely necessary for muscle strength and control. "I encourage parents to put kids on their tummy from Day One," says M. Michael Eisenfeld, M.D., a pediatrician at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida. "If you start early, your child will get used to it."

How to Help: Try laying your baby on your belly as you relax in a recliner. Seeing your face will give them an incentive to push up.

03 of 06

Rolling Over

little girl learning to crawl

When It Happens: The first time your baby rolls over—at around 4 to 6 months—they'll probably be as surprised as you are. "She'll push up on her tummy, then push up on her hands and shift her weight," says Alice Anderson, a pediatric physical therapist at Children's Medical Center Dallas. When your baby shifts too much to one side, they'll roll over flat onto their back.

What It Takes: Whether your baby rolls front-to-back or back-to-front first, expect a learning curve. They'll have to learn to get their arm out of the way, and then figure out how to replicate a motion they may have discovered by accident.

How to Help: When you see your baby starting to roll, help them position their arm at their side or lift it over their head so they can make it all the way over, says Dr. Eisenfeld.

04 of 06

Sitting Up

baby girl playing with wooden toys at home
Getty Images

When It Happens: Babies start to sit around 6 months. At first, they'll hunch over with legs splayed, hands in front on the ground for balance. Gradually, as they gain balance, they'll be able to sit upright and begin to lift their hands. By the time they are about 7 months old, most babies can sit and hold a toy at the same time.

What It Takes: Sitting doesn't come naturally—you'll have to put your baby into position. "Sit him upright and give him just a bit of support," advises Dr. Eisenfeld. "Then slowly move your hands away, staying by to catch him if he falls."

How to Help: Keep it interesting. "The hard part, for some kids, is staying focused on what's in front of them," explains Dr. Eisenfeld. "They want to move instead." Give your child something to hold onto, or make silly faces at eye level.

05 of 06


baby crawling on floor
Getty Images/ Jose Luis Pelaez Inc

When It Happens: While most babies crawl sometime between 7 and 10 months, plenty crawl later or never move on their hands and knees. Some experts believe this is an unintended side effect of the "Back to Sleep" campaign. "When the American Academy of Pediatrics started recommending that babies sleep on their back to prevent sudden infant death syndrome, babies began to spend less time on their tummy," says Anderson. "That's made a difference in when children reach certain milestones, and one of those is crawling." Luckily, doctors don't think it's important for babies to crawl as long as they find a way to get around and eventually walk.

What It Takes: Traditional crawling requires the coordination to shift a hand and a leg at the same time as well as the motivation to start moving. But some babies scoot on their butt, roll, or wriggle forward on their belly instead.

How to Help: Lay your child on their stomach and spread a couple of favorite toys just out of reach. Sooner or later, they'll find a way to get them.

06 of 06


15 month old baby

When It Happens: Before your child can walk, they have to learn how to stand. Expect them to pull up at around 10 to 12 months. They'll cruise around the furniture, and when they're ready—typically anywhere from 10 to 15 months—they'll let go.

What It Takes: Once they're able to pull up, they'll work on refining their balance and developing their gait. Make sure they have soft-soled shoes for walking outside and a safe area to explore. Babies like to use their toes to grip the floor, so if you're inside, let them go barefoot.

How to Help: Allow plenty of time for free play. You can also move some toys to a higher level. If everything is on the floor, your child has no incentive to get up and stand—except, of course, to reach all the tempting things you thought were out of reach!

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