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Track Your Baby’s Physical Development in the First Year of Life

Your baby’s physical development in the first year of life

By Elizabeth Heubeck

If you are the first-time parent of a newborn, you probably marvel at the 1-year-olds you see tottering around on two feet. Your baby can’t even roll over yet, so it’s hard to believe that, within a year’s time, your infant will most likely be on his or her way to attempting those first steps.
I asked Dr. Virginia Keane, a pediatrician at the University of Maryland Hospital for Children and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, for some insight into the major physical milestones that tend to take place within the first year of life. She explained the age ranges at which infants typically attempt certain physical feats for the first time and offered tips on how to encourage these new movements.

Primitive reflexes. If you sit holding your newborn around the middle facing you, with his or her feet on your legs, he or she may appear to be standing and attempting to walk. This is one of an infant’s many primitive reflexes, explains Keane. Others include the grasp reflex that causes the foot and toes to curl around objects placed on the bottom of a baby’s feet and the sucking reflex, whereby touching the roof of your baby’s mouth with an object such as a bottle nipple causes him or her to begin sucking. Between 3 and 4 months of age, these reflexes begin to wane.

Rolling. Babies begin and perfect the art of rolling between 3 and 6 months. It starts with an urge to get closer to a desired object—your voice, for instance.
The first roll, typically from tummy to back, usually happens by accident. As a baby strengthens the muscles in his or her head, arms, and back, he or she can begin to roll deliberately in both directions, usually sometime between 5 and 6 months.
To encourage this movement, Keane suggests giving your baby plenty of time on his or her tummy during waking hours and offering stimulating things to look at while in this position.

Sitting. Somewhere between 4 and 6 months, babies learn to sit up, unassisted. This begins with gaining the head control required to maintain an upright position, usually at about 4 months.
Once your child possesses adequate head control, you can help him or her gain the strength to sit up independently by propping him or her up with something soft. Then, place the baby’s legs out and hands out together, too, in front of him or her on the floor, like a tripod. The baby probably will fall to the side almost immediately. However, practicing this position will strengthen the muscles required for full-fledged independent sitting.

Crawling. Babies tend to start crawling somewhere between 6 and 9 months, first figuring out how to balance on their hands and knees, then moving forward by pushing off with their knees.
This doesn’t sound like a terribly comfortable way to get around, does it? That may very well be why some infants—about 20 percent—forego crawling altogether.
According to Keane, it’s perfectly normal to bypass this physical milestone. Babies who don’t crawl tend to find other ways of getting around, such as scooting around on their bottoms, while maneuvering with their arms.

Cruising.At around 8 or 9 months, babies may begin to pull themselves up to whatever surface will hold them and then take crab-like, sideways steps. To encourage the strength and balance required to cruise, as this movement is commonly called, Keane recommends parents provide stationary play stations and baby jumpers that attach to the ceiling and allow babies to bounce, using the strength of their legs. She warns, however, that if babies appear to be jumping too high in these bouncy contraptions, it may mean they’re too strong for them.

Walking. Somewhere between 12 and 15 months, most babies have gained the strength (and confidence) to let go and take those first tentative steps, trying out a sense of balance.
While this is an exciting time, Keane cautions parents to temper that excitement with common sense—being sure to childproof the house ASAP.
Finally, remember that no two infants develop at exactly the same rate. A child might roll across the floor at 3 months and then show zero interest in walking until 17 months. That’s why pediatricians mark developmental milestones in age ranges, not in a single month or year.
So, while it’s hard to avoid comparing your baby’s milestones with those of other babies, the practice can result in anxiety (if other babies seem to be ahead of yours) or an overinflated ego (if you have the only kid on the block who can walk at 9 months).
Instead, stick to sharing momentous physical feats with Grandma and Grandpa, and discuss any concerns about your child’s development with your pediatrician first. BC

You can follow Elizabeth Heubeck’s parenting blog online, at

Free Developmental Milestones Booklets

The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE), Branch of Early Childhood Intervention and Education has a published a series of booklets covering the major developmental milestones for children ages birth to 5 in the areas of communication, cognition, socialization, and motor development. Go to the website and look for the heading ECIE Brochures and Guides, then Parent Helper Book 1, which is an overview, and then Parent Helper Books 2, 3, 4, and 5. Click and download.

© Baltimore’s Child Inc. September 2010

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