Starting at birth, milestone achievements help give you timely insights into your child’s growth and development. In this post, we’ll focus on gross-motor development during the first three months, and provide ways you can help your little one attain related milestones. But first, a brief primer.
Motor skills are any actions that involve the use of muscles. Motor-skill development begins in the womb, and improves steadily after birth. Gross-motor skills are larger movements that involve the arms, legs, and torso. The word “gross” means large, big or bulky in this context…not yucky or indelicate.
Major gross-motor milestones include walking, running, climbing, jumping, riding, balance, and coordination. A 6-month-old isn’t expected to walk or run or ride a tricycle, of course, but there are many smaller gross-motor skills younger babies can master that set the stage for attaining these later skills. In the first three months, you can help by doing three simple things.
1. Become baby’s personal trainer
Baby’s legs spent months tucked into a fetal position, and now those tiny leg muscles could benefit from gentle stretching. Tenderly extend one leg at a time and lightly massage the thigh and calf areas. You might even play some soothing music to create a relaxing atmosphere.
Over time, you’ll notice increased arm and leg thrusting—a very early gross-motor milestone. When that happens, consider providing a little resistance—simply hold your open palm against the bottom of your child’s foot and press back lightly.
2. Get down and play
Tummy time is the key to strengthening baby’s arm, shoulder, neck, chest, and back muscles. The more tummy time spent, the stronger baby becomes and the sooner he or she will reach certain gross-motor milestones.
The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that, beginning on the first day home from the hospital, babies are given brief tummy-time periods two to three times a day. The AAP suggests three to five minutes at first. Over the next few months, gradually increase the time and frequency until baby has a total of about an hour of tummy time each day.
Don’t be surprised if your little one fusses when put on his or her stomach, especially early on, when holding up that heavy noggin is especially hard. Getting down to eye level with baby to keep him or her company and entertained may help. You also can try shorter, more frequent sessions throughout the day.
3. Make tummy time fun
We cannot stress this enough—tummy time is the best way to strengthen baby’s muscles early on. Continue giving your child several tummy-time periods each day. Eventually, all that hard work will pay off, and your little one will be able to lift up his or her head, briefly at first, but eventually holding it steady and turning it from side to side. At that point, baby will have the strength to hold his or her head steady when sitting, a milestone that typically is reached at about 2 months of age.
Remember, during tummy time, always give baby lots of interesting things to look at—bright, colorful toys, and/or your smiling face.