At first, an infant is content to lie in his crib and just wiggle his little limbs all over. But by his first birthday, he has learned to put his body in motion, and you'll be surprised by how your baby has learned to coordinate and control his movements. Once toddlerhood begins, you may find it hard to remember when this mini dynamo ever sat still!
But baby's abilities don't develop overnight. She'll put a lot of hard work and patience into mastering these motor skills. And as her muscles continue to grow and develop, your little explorer will be spurred by the curiosity to investigate every corner of her room and eventually the whole house. So it's never too early to begin babyproofing.
Baby's quest to gain control begins from the head down. The development of your infant's neck muscles is the first big step in her overall body control. In the first few weeks, your newborn's neck may seem floppy. But if you place baby on her stomach, she'll practice lifting her head for a few moments at a time -- even when she's just a few weeks old. Around the 3-month mark, baby will begin to turn her head from side to side to look at you or a colorful toy. These movements help strengthen baby's neck muscles. By 4 months, your little one should be able to hold up her head while she supports herself on her elbows.
Once baby can lift her head while on her stomach, she's almost ready to roll. By her fifth month, your little one will use her arms to push off, and with some effort she'll start to roll from her stomach to her side. Tummy-to-side rolling is common for babies because they can use their arms and legs to gain momentum.
By 6 months, most babies have gained enough abdominal strength to flip all the way over. Your baby may spend hours flopping from belly to back to belly again. She may even roll across the room as a way to travel. Baby's rolling abilities can be stronger than you think -- so don't forget to keep a firm hold on her, especially on the changing table.
A recent study found that babies born in the summer and fall tend to crawl later than those born in the winter and spring. The reason? Summer and fall babies reach crawling age in winter, when they wear more restrictive clothing.
Though baby may now be comfortable getting down on all fours, he may not do much but rock back and forth. With time, however, he will adopt one of the many forms of crawling in order to make his way across the floor.
For many babies, crawling is a skill that's usually mastered between 7 and 10 months. With a little time and practice, baby will discover that by digging in with his knees and pushing off, he can propel himself across the room toward the target of his choice. And don't worry if he doesn't crawl -- some babies never crawl and instead move straight from sitting up to standing. This is normal.
Sitting up usually happens a little later than rolling -- between 6 and 8 months. Though your baby uses the same muscle groups to achieve both of these goals, figuring out how to get upright takes more coordination. If he's feeling unsure, you may also start to see your baby "tripod," leaning forward as he extends his arms to balance his upper body.
By his eighth month, your baby may be sitting without your support. Though he might topple over from time to time, he'll begin to catch himself with his arms. And as the muscles in his torso grow stronger, he'll start learning to pick up toys without your help. As the months pass, he'll begin to hold his back and head straighter. As your baby's confidence grows, he'll use his hands less for support -- and more for mischievous play!
Crawling methods can come in as many varieties as babies themselves. Many babies try several methods before they find the one they like. Below are the most common:
The Combat Crawl
With her forearms flat on the floor and her bottom in the air, baby creeps on her belly.
The Butt Scoot
Baby sits on his tush and propels himself with his arms and legs.
The Bear Walk
Instead of bending her elbows or putting weight on her knees, baby keeps her arms and legs straight, lumbering along.
The Bunny HopGetting down on all fours, baby hops.
Tucking one knee in and extending the other, baby maneuvers himself sideways and backwards.
Although crawling makes a huge difference in how your baby sees the world, don't expect her to be content for long. Soon she will yearn to stand. Keep in mind that when baby starts standing, she may not know how to get down.
If she cries for help, show her how to gently bend her knees and lower herself to the floor. Once she feels secure in standing, baby may try to get around by cruising -- traveling up and down the length of the couch or along the wall. She'll also enjoy taking strolls with you while you clutch her hands to keep her upright.
As baby's balance improves, she'll occasionally let go of you to take a step by herself, only to grab you again when she feels like she may be falling. This independence will grow as baby becomes more confident.
Most babies begin to walk between 8 and 18 months, so don't worry if she's taking her time. Though baby's first steps may be shaky and sporadic, soon you won't be able to keep up with her.
Skip the shoes! When baby is first learning to walk, bare feet are best: They allow her to gain balance and grip the ground. But for outdoor treks, try "first walkers" -- lightweight shoes made of natural materials.
Difficulties in reaching large-motor milestones can be an indication that your baby has a more serious medical problem. Here's what to look for:
By 3 months
By 7 months
By 12 months
Originally published in American Baby magazine, January 2005.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.