In a relatively short period of time, your baby will change from being a helpless individual to a walking toddler. This momentous achievement depends on muscle development and the growth of the brain pathways that become increasingly specialised in movement control in the first year. Here are a few essentials that can help your baby reach their physical milestones.
Head control: Being able to lift up the head is a baby’s first and most important developmental milestone. Babies that are placed on their tummies during waking hours often achieve head control sooner than those who are used to lying on their backs. To encourage head control, place your baby on their tummy and keep them company on the floor. If your baby needs extra support, place a rolled up towel under their chest. In this position, they will lift up their head to get a better view of you and the world around them.
Tummy time: Put your baby onto their tummy during supervised play to strengthen upper body muscles in preparation for rolling over, sitting and crawling. If your baby finds tummy time physically uncomfortable, make it fun. Lie on the floor and put your baby face down on your chest. Make funny sounds to encourage them to look up at you. Place your baby on a colourful quilt with squeaky toys attached. Remove their socks so they can get good traction on the play mat. Put them on their tummy over a gym ball. Hold them firmly while you gently rock the ball back and forth. They will soon learn to shift their body weight, which improves balance and coordination.
Rolling over: The ability to roll over depends on plenty of tummy time, which develops strong head, neck and arm muscles. The movement usually occurs at about five months of age, but can happen sooner. With increasing practise, your baby will roll from tummy to back and then on to their tummy again with a short rest in between. The skill can be encouraged by placing a colourful toy or rattle to one side and by helping your baby to roll over. Rolling enables them to get to interesting objects, so you need to be on the lookout for hazards.
Sitting: Holding a sitting position without toppling over is one of the trickiest things your baby has to learn. Lateral propping with cushions is essential until they gain full control of their upper body. Most babies achieve an upright position at about six months of age, which leads to greater use of their hands. Toys with buttons to push or a treasure basket filled with interesting household objects will invite exploration and will encourage hand-to-eye coordination.
Crawling: Moving about on all fours is an important developmental step. The movement stimulates left and right brain development, improves elasticity and contractibility of the muscles, relieves tension in the joints during growth spurts, promotes better sleeping patterns and boosts the immune system. To encourage this essential skill, place a toy, ball or baby mirror just out of reach. If your baby crawls backwards, this simply means that the muscles in their forearms are stronger than the muscles in their legs.
Walking: Putting one foot in front of the other requires a lot of muscle power, coordination and mental determination. To help your baby take their tentative first steps, kneel down and hold out your hands to encourage them to walk towards you. Take off your baby’s shoes. Going barefoot improves balance and coordination, builds arches, strengthens ankles and makes the muscles work harder. A toddler truck is another great way to provide early walking support. Praise and encouragement are important, too. Most babies learn to crawl between six and eleven months, while others walk early or as late as two years.
Your baby is unique and will reach the developmental milestones at his own pace. No two babies are the same.
Dr Lin Day has worked with babies and young children throughout her career. She also Developed Baby Sensory, the only provider of baby development classes designed specifically for babies from birth to 13 months old.
Find out more about Baby Sensory here