Go, Baby, Go!
Learning how to roll over, crawl, and take those first steps is tough work for a baby. In fact, it takes weeks of practice -- plus strength and coordination -- to reach these motor milestones. Here's how to help your little one get moving.
Lifting Head and Pushing Up
1 to 4 Months
When your infant is between 1 and 2 months old, he'll briefly pull his head back and turn it from side to side when you hold him against your shoulder or chest. This strengthens the muscles in his neck, shoulders, and upper back. Eventually, these muscles -- along with a maturing nervous system that can send messages from his brain to the nerves of his arms and hands -- will enable him to push up on his forearms and lift his chest off the floor.
How to Help: Even at 6 weeks old, a baby can spend a few minutes each day belly-down across your lap with his head to the side. Starting at 3 months of age, give your baby tummy time when he's awake and alert, and you're there to watch. For ten minutes several times a day, place him on a blanket on the floor, and lie down next to him.
4 to 8 Months
All that pushing up will soon pay off. Your baby's upper-body strength makes it possible for her to lean to one side and reach for toys. Her leg and abdominal muscles have developed as well, thanks to her love of kicking in the air and bringing her toes to her mouth. The result? Your baby will soon find herself rolling from her tummy onto her back. She'll master moving from back to stomach about a month later.
How to Help: Give your baby plenty of opportunities to kick her legs when she's on her back or stomach (a baby gym often encourages this motion). When your baby is playing on her stomach, sit beside her and talk -- it will encourage her to lift her head and reach for you. Or hold some toys just out of reach so she'll shift her weight and pivot to get to them. When your baby does roll over, applaud her -- she'll be eager to try it again.
5 to 8 Months
Hello, world! Your baby has a whole new view of her surroundings now that her back and abdominal muscles are strong enough to enable her to sit upright. At first, she'll need assistance from you. Soon after, she'll adopt the "tripod pose" and use her arms for support so she doesn't topple over. Only when your baby's vestibular system -- parts of the inner ear that regulate stability and balance -- has fully matured will she be able to sit with her hands resting in her lap. It will be another month before your baby is coordinated enough to move from lying on her back to sitting upright.
How to Help: Regularly hold your baby in your lap or prop her up using cushions or pillows. Research has shown that providing support around a baby's hips encourages her to sit up with confidence. In addition, rocking back and forth with your baby or holding her and letting her bounce or "dance" on your lap provides a sense of propulsion vital to the development of her vestibular system.
Reaching and Grasping
4 to 6 Months
Your baby's ability to reach for and hold on to an object marks a major advance for his brain and fine motor skills. Until recently, his hand could close around an object such as a finger, but the motion was pure reflex. Now, his hand-eye coordination has matured enough so that he can see a favorite toy and decide he wants it, then use the muscles in his limbs to reach out, grab it, and bring it to his mouth. Of course, his attempts will be clumsy at first -- he may use his whole hand to rake across an object when trying to pick it up. Soon, though, his coordination will be so advanced that he'll be able to transfer items from one hand to the other.
How to Help: Put soft, easy-to-grasp toys in his hands; this kind of touch stimulates the nerves in his fingers and gives him practice holding things. When your infant is on the floor, put some toys by his sides, within his reach -- it'll encourage him to turn his body to get to them. Finally, play basic games like pat-a-cake with your baby to help improve his coordination.
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