All babies learn to control their muscles in the same order: first the face and neck, followed by arms, trunk and finally legs and feet. Babies learn to balance their head before they are able to sit, stand or walk.
Getting used to life outside the womb is a huge adjustment for the baby. Fully developed, healthy babies are well-equipped to continue living and developing in the world they were born into.
A newborn's head is large and heavy in relation to its body. The baby learns to hold up its head by the age of three months. Until then, it needs the support of an adult hand behind its head. Babies have such a strong gripping reflex that they can carry their own weight then they are newly born.
Your child's sensory and brain development Your child's motor development from 1 ½ to 4 years Your newborn baby's reflexes Timeline - Your child's motor development from 0 to 18 months
A baby's hands are initially clenched and its body movements are jerky and unpredictable. Most newborn babies like lying on their side in the foetal position with their arms and legs pulled close to their body. It is recommended for the baby to sleep on its back because this reduces the risk of cot death.
As the months pass, the baby becomes increasingly mobile and gradually learns to turn over from its back onto one side. Its hands start opening. Next, the baby starts stretching out its hands to touch things. But it takes time before it learns to deliberately grip objects.
More conscious movements
After a month or two, the ability to mimic facial expressions usually disappears, but returns again at about six months old. The baby's movements start becoming more deliberate. As it gains greater control of its body movements it loses some of the infant reflexes, such as the palmar grasp reflex.
Discovery of hands and feet
At 3 to 6 months, the baby discovers it hands and feet and has an urge to put them in its mouth. It wants to put everything it its mouth to taste and explore it. The baby can hold a rattle. It can change its position and soon learns to roll from its back to its side and then back again. The baby has good control of its head and can sit supported on somebody's knee or on the floor propped up with cushions. The baby explores the world with its sense of taste, touch, sight and smell. Soon it will be stretching up its arms for you to pick it up, and when you do it might explore your face with its hands and mouth.
Rolling from back to tummy
From about 5 months of age, the baby can roll from its back onto its tummy. It can lie on its tummy supported on its elbows, still with clenched fists. It will stretch to reach nearby toys. If it is warm and there is no draught, it is good to leave the baby lying completely naked to air its skin. Most babies enjoy this. They like having enough room to move freely, both on their back and onto their tummy.
Passing objects from hand to hand
At about 5 to 6 months, the baby starts having fun playing with toys and may drop them on purpose to see what happens. The baby uses its hands to reach nearby objects, and can pass things from one hand to another. At this age, some babies enjoy lying on their tummies supported on their underarms while holding a little toy. They can sit quite steadily if supported, and start practising moving around. The baby might start kicking or rolling from its tummy onto its back or vice versa. Eventually it will start crawling.
Moving around or crawling
Soon the baby will start scooting backwards or forwards. Babies usually start by scooting backwards. This trains arm-leg coordination, which is the basis of all the movements the baby needs to learn before walking. The baby's feet and legs are strong enough to support its body if the baby is held in a standing position. Babies usually like standing on an adult's knee and bouncing up and down.
Seeing and reaching for objects
A baby bouncer can be very useful, but should initially only be used for short periods at a time. to avoid overworking the baby's back. Put an object within reach that the baby can grab hold of. Always carefully check any objects you give to the baby. Before long, everything the baby grabs hold of will be put into its mouth to be examined. Make sure the baby does not have access to toys that are too small or have loose parts that it could choke on.
Suitable toys at this time are rattles, soft books, play mats, mobiles and soft music. Provide toys in many colours, egg shakers, balls and rattles that make noises, soft toys and musical boxes.