Baby Steps

Motor development during your child’s first year.

While the development of important motor skills, such as sitting, crawling and walking, usually adheres to a well-chronicled sequence, each baby is unique and follows his own timeline, which is based on various factors. Here’s what parents need to know about motor development, including what are typical milestones and what warning signs to look for that require guidance from an expert.

Ages Newborn-3 Months

By 3 months of age, babies can hold their head straight up to look at you and smile. They should start swiping at toys and turn their head from side to side to follow familiar faces or objects. A 3 month old should be able to spend time on his belly when awake, lifting his head up high while pushing down through his elbows and turning to the side.

Possible Warning Signs

  • He doesn’t hold his head up during tummy time.
  • He favors looking only to one side, neglecting the other.
  • He doesn’t kick while lying on his back.

Ages 3-6 Months

This is the magical period when babies start to discover their bodies and nearby surroundings. Hand control continues to improve as they practice swiping and grasping at toys. As such, they’ll begin reaching toward their knees to strengthen the abdominal muscles. Muscle control and strength increases, as well. They begin rolling independently from back to belly, lifting their head higher and pushing on extended arms to get a better view of their environment. By 5 months, tots should be able to sit in a tripod (legs spread with both arms out in front as support), and by 6 to 7 months they should be able to sit upright by themselves when placed in that position. During this period, babies also start to engage more cognitively. For example, they enjoy looking in mirrors and making sounds.

Possible Warning Signs

  • He doesn’t kick his legs one by one and only moves them together.
  • He doesn’t bring his legs up toward his hands and mouth to explore them.
  • He consistently leans forward while sitting.
  • He can’t roll from back to side and briefly maintain the position.

Ages 6-9 Months

Six months is when babies really start to explore, especially since they can now roll back and forth from stomach to backside and sit upright. By 9 months, babies play in a variety of sitting postures and can easily move from sitting to their hands and knees. Just before crawling, they start to move onto all fours and rock forward and backward. Some 9 month olds try to stand by holding onto furniture.

Possible Warning Signs

  • He is unable to maintain sitting independently.
  • His only sitting posture is ring sit or W-sit, a position in which the knees are bent on either side.
  • He is unable to balance on all fours.
  • He crawls with a bunny-hop pattern.

Ages 9-12 Months

Being able to stand and walk are major accomplishments in the last three months before a toddler’s 1st birthday. In this time, they practice crawling, climbing, pulling to stand, standing, walking with support and, finally, walking independently. Nine- to 12-month-old children typically practice the same movements over and over again to gain strength and control. While some babies may walk at 10 to 11 months of age, taking first steps at 14 to 15 months is still considered within the normal range. If there is a suspected motor delay at this age, the signs were most likely present but were missed in earlier months.

Possible Warning Signs

  • He is not walking by 15 months of age.

If your child exhibits any of the warning signs listed, make an appointment with your pediatrician or have your baby evaluated by a physical therapist. In most cases, experts can show you ways to encourage your baby’s development through play and positioning. Before you know it, your baby will be crawling, scooting or cruising to the next level.