Parenting tip

Some babies don’t crawl in the traditional way but rather shuffle around on their bottoms, pushing with their hands and legs.

Your baby’s development: physical stages

All babies move and develop at a different pace. Here we explore the stages and see how parents can support their child’s development.

This article has been divided into the different stages you may expect your child to experience:
Kick, wriggle and roll
Tummy time
Hand and arm movement
Sitting and crawling
Standing and cruising
Milestones
Further information

Kick, wriggle and roll

If your baby enjoys these movements, let him have enough space when he lies down and make sure he’s not constricted by clothing that’s too big or too small.

At first his movements may appear jerky and meaningless, but if you observe him closely, you will begin to see he is communicating through movement of his limbs as well as his face.

Babies also sometimes prefer to feel contained, recreating the feeling of being in the womb. For instance, some babies might fling out their arms or try to push themselves up to the sides of their cot or Moses basket. This is a short phase and to create that security, you can tuck your baby in, or carry him in a sling.

Rolling over is usually the next stage of movement so be careful about putting your baby on a bed or a high surface in case he starts demonstrating his new skill.

Tummy time

Giving babies supervised tummy time helps to strengthen their backs, arms and necks; encourages them to roll over; and gives them a different view of the world. You can do this once or several times throughout the day. Some babies don’t like being put on their tummies — this is perfectly normal and may change as they get older.

Hand and arm movement

Your baby’s hands will be a source of endless fascination throughout much of his first year. As a newborn your baby’s hands will remain clenched a lot of the time. At around three months, he will begin to open his hands on his own and slowly gain control over his movements. You should notice his increased hand-eye co-ordination as he discovers they are part of his body.

Your baby’s attempts to bring his hands to his mouth will be persistent, but mostly in vain at first. By four months, however, he’ll probably have finally mastered this game and be able to get his thumb to his mouth and keep it there. This movement is one of his most important ways to self-sooth and calm down, so try not to cover his hands, or otherwise prevent him from sucking them if he wants to.

Your baby will also begin to reach accurately and quickly — not only with both hands but with his entire body. Reaching for objects and for you will all become part of his general physical development.

Sitting and crawling

Babies learn to sit, first supported and then unsupported. Your baby might enjoy holding onto your hands and attempting to pull up to a sit. Sometimes moving from sitting to crawling can be quite awkward, and babies can hurt themselves. He might at times get stuck, so it’s a good idea for someone to be close by, and keep an eye out at this time to limit bruises.

When your baby does decide to crawl, his first efforts are likely to be towards something. You can encourage him by putting a favourite toy just out of reach or by calling to him from a few paces away. Try to place him on a soft blanket or carpet and be prepared for him to wobble a little as he may still be too young to support his own body weight on his arms.

He may crawl sideways, backwards, or even with one knee up. Some babies don’t crawl in the traditional way but rather shuffle around on their bottoms, pushing with their hands and legs.

Standing and cruising

Once your baby is crawling he will start pulling himself to a standing position, although some babies crawl for months before actually walking. You can encourage this by supporting his underarms with your hands and bouncing him up and down. You may notice he stiffens his legs and relaxes them again, stands on his tip toes and sometimes even resists being put down.

He may get up and not know how to get back down, resulting in a call for help. You can teach him to lower himself onto his bottom by pushing him down gently. Once he has learned how to stand, he may embark on what is known as cruising, which is using furniture for support to move a few steps.

In the beginning, he may walk with his feet at a slight angle; this can happen while the muscles in his legs become stronger. If this continues, you can seek advice from your GP. Remember some slips and falls are inevitable and all part of learning.

Milestones

Babies will choose the time at which they feel confident enough to roll over, sit, crawl, stand or walk. And, if your baby is learning a skill, it’s better to leave him to fully grasp that stage of development rather than push him onto the next stage.

Sometimes your baby may seem to lose a skill due to concentrating on gaining a new ability. However, once he has mastered the new skill, you will see that the old ones are still present.

Similarly, if your little one is ill, they may temporarily regress with their movement. As soon as they’re feeling well again, they’ll have the energy to pick up where they left off.

There’s no rush and most babies will do things when they’re ready. But you can help; just by making sure your little one can move around and practise their new abilities freely, easily and safely.

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

NHS Choices has information on what to expect during your child's developmental check-ups.

Start4Life posts some ideas on how you can incorporate active play into your baby's day.