Infant motor milestones: 0-6 months
Dr. Rebecca Talmud of Dinosaur Physical Therapy shares her guide to milestones with fun and simple activities to help your baby explore, learn and grow.
So much of your baby’s development will happen within the first 12 months of their life. It is an amazing thing to watch and to be part of. As a new parent, you will begin to no doubt hear and think about ‘milestones’.
This guide will focus specifically on motor milestones from birth to 6 months and includes fun activity ideas and strategies to support your child’s development. It is important to always remember that all milestones occur on a continuum and this is just a guideline of what to expect. All children develop at their own pace but if you do have any concerns reach out to a Pediatrician or Pediatric Physical Therapist.
During your child’s first month they favor positions and deep pressure that replicate their time in the womb and their movements are mostly governed by reflexes. As the first month progresses we notice our little ones moving their extremities in more of a random manner and beginning to move their head and eyes in order to localize sounds.
Activities for a 1-month old baby
- Soft touch: Gentle massage helps to promote baby’s body awareness and is a wonderful opportunity for parent/child bonding. Choose a time when your baby is alert and awake and ensure the room is warm and the lighting not too bright. Position your baby so that you are able to maintain eye contact. Use a soothing voice as you apply baby-friendly oil or lotion beginning with child’s upper legs down to his feet, followed by your child’s upper arms down to his hands. Finish with gentle back and belly strokes.
- Baby stretch: With your baby resting comfortably on his back, gently stretch his arms overhead and extend his legs out. Slowly flex your baby’s legs in a bicycle motion.
- Tummy-to-tummy: Tummy-time is an important activity for your baby to enjoy everyday. It helps to build head, neck and upper body strength for future motor milestones. Begin tummy-time by lying your baby on your chest or your tummy. This is a great way to engage and bond with your baby.
Your child will begin to develop more control of their head and neck and start tracking objects with their eyes. Your little one may even begin initiating some important self-soothing strategies.
Activities for a 2-month old baby
- Visual tracking: Utilize colorful and motivating objects such as pictures, photos, toys and books to encourage your baby to look to both sides. Incorporate visual tracking when your child is supported in your arms, lying on his back, and during tummy-time.
- Baby rolls: Facilitate gentle rolling from back to belly before tummy-time to allow your baby to practice transitional movements.
- Tummy-minute: Encourage tummy-time for longer intervals on an activity mat. Place safe objects such as plush toys or soft books in front of your baby within reachable distance. Move them from side to side to encourage your baby to move his head and neck. A non-breakable floor mirror or high contrast play cards are also great tools to incorporate into tummy-time.
In month three your little one will now be demonstrating more symmetric movements such as attempting to hold up head in midline when lying on his back and even lifting his head up when placed on his tummy and pushing up onto his forearms. You may also notice less fisting in preparation for intentional grasping movements.
Activities for a 3-month old baby
- Track and reach: Encourage your baby to reach and explore with tracking activities by giving him tactile toys to touch, chew on and look at.
- Side play: Side play is a great alternative position to help promote visual engagement and activation of both sides of your baby’s body. It also helps to reduce pressure on your baby’s head. Position your baby on his side using a nursing pillow or a rolled up blanket and engage with bilateral play activities which means using both hands together to manipulate objects – this is an important precursor for future motor milestones.
- Tummy-down carry: Also known as the ‘football hold’ – position one hand under your baby’s belly and the other hand between your baby’s legs and nestle him close to your body. This position allows your little one to experience extension and gain helpful visual and vestibular (inner ear) input.
Your little one will now start to roll from back to side. He will also begin to hold onto objects with both hands and maintain his hands open more often. Your baby’s head control will also continue to improve.
Activities for a 4-month old baby
- Baby grip: Encourage your baby to grip objects using both hands at once. Use toys that are easy for little fingers to grasp and hold and that can engage both hands working together such as the ‘O-ball’.
- Tummy push-up: Promote tummy-time activities over a bolster or a wedge to encourage your baby to use hands to weight bear.
- Belly-ball-time: Using a therapy ball, place your baby on your belly and shift your weight side to side and back and forth. This movement helps to stimulate your baby’s vestibular system which helps with your baby’s brain development, coordination, and balance.
Your little one will begin to roll from belly to back and push up using his hands when on his belly. He will also be able to transfer objects from one hand to the other. Trunk control continues to improve as well, as your little one prepares for sitting.
Activities for a 5-month old baby
- Baby sit-ups: Facilitate your baby’s transition from lying on his back to a seated position. Encourage this movement by first helping your child roll to the side. As you bring him into a sitting position from his side, allow him time to place his hands on the surface to push up into sitting on his own.
- Supported sitting: Practice sitting activities using a feeding pillow or with your legs around your baby’s body.
- Seated ball-time: Using a therapy ball, place your baby on the ball and hold him firmly around his waist. Gently shift your baby’s weight from side to side, back and forth and around in slow circles.
Your little one will begin to roll from back to belly and then back again! You may also note that your baby is now able to sit independently for short intervals. Your baby is also beginning to be able to reach with one hand while supporting his weight on his belly.
Activities for a 6-month old baby
- Sitting challenge: Practice sitting activities with toys that encourage your baby to reach and cross his midline such as stacking toys or shape sorters.
- Four-point support: Encourage your baby to weight bear on his hands and knees. You can either use your hand to hold him under his chest or use a feeding pillow or bolster to support his trunk.
- Crawling prep: With your baby on his belly place some toys just outside of his reach to encourage reaching, grabbing and purposeful forward moving.