Is Your Baby on Track for Motor Milestones? If They’re Under 6 Months Old, Here’s How to Help

By: Kim Hrapchak, PT, MSPT

Babies are changing by the day, and every new “motor milestone” is a thrill – like the first time they hold a toy, roll, sit up alone, and crawl.

These milestones depend on lots of factors, including some that aren’t under anyone’s control. But there are a few ways to help your baby develop their motor skills.

Connecticut Children’s pediatric physical therapist Kim Hrapchak, PT, MSPT, shares guidance.

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Wondering if your baby is on track for motor milestones?

Remember that all babies are different, and there is a normal range of when infants gain different motor skills. If you have concerns regarding your baby’s development, talk to your child’s pediatrician.

In the meantime, here are some general guidelines on what to expect for babies up to 6 months old.

3 months old

  • While your baby’s on their tummy, they may be pushing into their elbows and lifting their head fully
  • On their back, bringing hands to the middle and up to their mouth
  • On their back, turning their head in both directions to visually follow a toy
  • On their back, beginning to try to reach for a toy placed above them

6 months old

  • On their tummy, reaching for toys
  • On their tummy, pushing up higher, with their elbows extended
  • On their back, bringing hands to their feet
  • Rolling from back to belly and belly to back
  • Beginning to sit up on their own

Cute baby begins to crawl

Want to help your baby achieve their milestones?

Tip 1. Make sure your baby is getting enough tummy time.

Ideally, that’s about 15 minutes a day when you first bring them home from the hospital, building up to 60 to 90 minutes a day by the time they’re a few months old. Get tummy time tips here.

Tip 2. Limit your use of baby carriers, bouncy seats, swings and other “containers.”       

Infants benefit most from opportunities to move freely and explore, such as on the floor, on a firm surface. Certain containers and equipment restrict this movement. If your baby spends a lot of time in these devices, it can lead to movement or behavior delays. It can also lead to a flat spot on your baby’s head (plagiocephaly) and asymmetrical neck posture (torticollis).

This includes:

  • Car seats
  • Strollers
  • Bumbo seats
  • Swings
  • Rockers
  • Bouncer seats
  • Nursing cushions
  • Vibrating chairs

How much time is too much? Try to only use car seats and strollers when your baby is actually being moved somewhere, and other devices for limited amounts of time when your infant needs a safe place (for example, while you’re cooking). Instead of using a seat, swing or other device to hold your baby, let them play on the floor (always with adult supervision), or hold them in your arms or a sling. Or use a pack-n-play or playpen, where your baby still has room to explore but you can be sure they’re in a safe place.

> Related: Are You Disinfecting Your Baby’s Gear Correctly?

Tip 3. Try other developmental positions and activities.

  • Lay your baby on their side with a rolled towel behind their back and toys in front of them.
  • On their back, hold toys above them to have your baby practice focusing on objects and tracking them with their eyes in all directions.

Tip 4. Change up your baby’s environment.

  • Vary which side you hold your baby and feed them on.
  • Switch their head position in the crib and on the changing table.

This will help develop equal motion and strength on both sides, and help prevent torticollis and plagiocephaly. Plus, it will keep your baby more curious and engaged in the world around them!

> Related: How to Calm a Crying Infant (and Yourself)

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