4 Ways to Encourage Motor Development in Baby's First Year
Jul 09, 2020
Within the first year of life, your baby will develop critical motor skills that help them make small movements, hold up their head, sit up-right, crawl and eventually walk. As a caregiver, there are many things you can do to encourage the development of bones and muscles to help them reach these milestones. If you aren’t sure where to start, here are ideas to help your baby develop motor skills in their first year.
Give them room to move
Babies need room to practice motor skills. The best place for your baby to explore movement and develop strength is on the floor. Limit the time your baby spends in “equipment” such as bouncers, infant seats, and swings. Jumpers and baby walkers are not recommended – these can encourage a child to stand on their toes and may even delay walking (push toys are okay). Play pens and portable cribs are best when you need a safe place to keep your baby contained.
Tummy time – it’s never too early!
Tummy time is the best way for your baby to develop the strength in their neck, shoulders, arms and trunk that they need to roll, crawl and walk. Even very young infants can do tummy time, just place them on your chest in a semi-reclined position. Once a baby has developed enough strength to lift their head, they can be placed on a flat surface or with a towel roll placed under their upper chest, from armpit to armpit. Start with short sessions – less than a minute if that’s all your baby can tolerate – and gradually increase the time as they grow. Try placing colorful toys, a mirror, or your face in front to help decrease frustration.
Give your baby the “just right” challenge
Your baby may get frustrated when learning a new skill, but trial and error is important for motor learning. Let your baby try and fail a few times before helping them. And once your baby masters a skill, you can help them move on to the next step by making it just a little bit harder. For example, if your baby can sit on their own, encourage them to grab a toy held just out of reach to challenge their balance. If they can hold a rattle, challenge them to hold a toy that is slightly larger or heavier.
Make it fun!
Babies learn through play and they learn best when they are self-motivated and engaged. Find toys and activities that your baby finds exciting (try toys with different sounds, textures, and colors) and use them when practicing new skills. Get siblings and other family members involved when you can. Remember, your baby’s biggest motivator is you – so don’t forget to give them lots of praise and encouragement when they’re attempting something new!
To learn more about Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s neuroscience research of developing infants, tune in to the BABIES series on Netflix, which explores the groundbreaking science that reveals how infants discover life during their very first year.
Lindsay Pietruszewski, PT, DPT, is an outpatient physical therapist at Nationwide Children Hospital's Main Campus. She is also a member of the Maitre Lab research team at the Center for Perinatal Research.
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