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Early Motor Development

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This article has been generously contributed by Evelyn G. Lipper, M.D., Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Weill Medical College of Cornell University.

We all know that a baby’s brain grows and develops faster in the first year of life than at any other time. Your baby needs lots of love, attention and experiential learning to maximize her development.

All babies develop in the same order but at different rates.  It is helpful to think about the order of that development to understand what kinds of stimuli your baby needs and when to provide them. Early motor development proceeds in what pediatricians call a cephalo-caudal manner, meaning from head to foot.

At birth, a baby’s senses are fully operational. Your baby can see (although visual acuity will improve over time), hear, taste, smell and feel your touch. Your baby can track a visual target, and the human face is actually the preferred visual stimulus.  She also responds to sound and even knows your voice and prefers your voice to anyone else’s.   Over the first three months, your baby will develop good head control so that when you hold your baby in a seated position, she can keep her head steady without you having to provide support. And we encourage parents to place their babies on their tummies when awake during the first three months of life to encourage development of good head control.

Between three and six months, your baby’s development is about trunk control. Your baby will start rolling over, and then progress from needing support of the trunk in sitting to almost being able to sit by herself.  When placed on her stomach, she will not only be able to lift her head but also she will start to lift her chest up in preparation for crawling. She will start to reach for objects both when lying on her back as well as when she is on her tummy.  When  held in a sitting position, if you tip her to one side, her head will stay in line with her trunk.

Good sitting posture is achieved between 6 and nine months, first being able to sit without support when placed in a seated position., followed by the ability to get into a sitting by rolling over  from back to stomach and uses her hands to get into sitting.  By nine months, your baby will also be able to grab onto the sides of her crib or a chair and pull herself up to standing.  Your baby will be able to crawl on all fours although some babies skip this phases of motor development.

Finally, at 9-12 months, your baby will become proficient in standing, needing less and less support. She will start to take steps holding on to furniture. From standing without holding on for a few seconds, babies begin taking a few steps.  By 15 months of age., 50 % of babies will walk independently  and almost all typically developing babies walk by 18 months of age.

If you find that your baby is not following this typical pattern, you might want to mention it to your pediatrician. Federal law covers detailed evaluation and intervention services for all infants who are suspect of having developmental delays in the first year of life. These Early Intervention Services are provided at no cost to you and go a long way to helping your baby catch up.  

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