My baby is 10 months old and is pulling herself up to stand. What motor skill developments can I expect next?—from a mother in class
MOTOR SKILL DEVELOPMENT OF BABY STANDING
Every parent is excited to see their baby pull herself up onto her feet. This is a sign that the stage of infancy is soon coming to an end and toddlerhood is on the horizon. However, there is still much for baby to learn and develop from the skill of standing up to the skill of walking. For example, once baby learns to stand up she often learns an improved way to stand. Sometimes she begins standing up on the side of her ankle, or by pulling herself up with her arms and keeping her legs straight. We show baby how she can stand up by placing one foot on the ground and stepping on it to lift her up. This uses the bigger and stronger muscles of the legs and hips and encourages healthy development of the foot and ankle joints.
SKILL REVERSIBILITY: BABY STANDING TO SITTING OR CRAWLING
After baby stands up, she will need to learn to sit down again on her knees or her behind. Reversing the skill of standing up is very important. Sometimes babies cry after they stand up because they do not know how to get back down again. If a baby has crawled a bit before standing up it will be easier to get back down on the knees or to sitting because it is a familiar place for them in their nervous system. She will need to bend her knees to get back down on the floor. A considerable amount of baby strength develops with this action of standing up and squatting to a sitting or kneeling position. Think of it as baby squats.
BALANCE AND BABY FOOT DEVELOPMENT
The motor skill development of standing is most significant for it’s placement of baby on her feet for the first time. Baby’s bones and muscles in her feet will develop strength and she will develop her ability to balance during the action of standing up and just standing there. It is important to understand that when baby stands up and does not move, significant development is occuring in her feet. Look down at her feet and watch them wiggle a bit as she develops her balance. You may see her toes curling under a bit at first and then soon they can elongate onto the floor once her balance is more secure. Holding onto a chair or coffee table (that is baby proofed) is essential for baby to feel stable during this time. Holding onto your hand is not stable enough. Wait until she is walking on her own to hold her hands in the standing position.
WEIGHT TRANSFER: MOTOR SKILL DEVELOPMENT OF SIDE CRUISING
Once baby is stable on her feet she will be motivated by her curiosity to take some side ways steps. This is the motor skill of cruising, also called “side cruising.” The steps are taken sideways as she faces a chair seat or a low table to hold onto for stability. This movement develops the ability to transfer her weight from one foot to another. This presents additional challenge to her balance, coordination, and strength. Place a light weight object such as an O-Ball on the table or nearby chair so she will be motivated to move toward it. If she throws it on the floor it is not heavy and will not hurt her foot. You can develop this into a game for baby of throwing the O-Ball off of the chair.
BALANCE DEVELOPMENT: “LOOK MA, NO HANDS!”
After baby spends time in the skill of side cruising, she will gain the strength and confidence to let of of the table and stand on her own two feet without holding on to anything. Watch her feet as she stands. This is a tremendous skill advancement and further develops her balance. You will know when this skill is emerging when she can hold onto the table with only one hand and turn and look behind her or off to one side.
WALKING INDEPENDENTLY: FORWARD STEPS EMERGE FROM THE CRUISING
After baby’s balance improves so she can stand without holding on, she will begin to take forward steps on her own. You might observe that during her side cruising, she may turn a bit sideways and take a few forward steps mixed in with her sideways steps. This is the motor skill of walking beginning to emerge. Once she has the balance, coordination, and strength to take forward steps without holding on to a chair or table she will do so. We call this motor skill independent walking because she is walking on her own. You may see parents holding the baby’s hands to help her walk, but I recommend NOT holding her hands. Your hands are not as stable as a table and she will feet unsteady. Look down and you may see her toes curling under to help her figure out how to balance. After she has been walking a bit on her own, then you can hold her hands to keep her near you. She will walk on her own when her muscles and bones are ready and when she has the confidence and security to do so.
Baby learns to do a push up on the stairs. This strengthens her arms for hands and knees crawling.
BABY STRENGTH AND MOTOR SKILL DEVELOPMENT
Babies gain strength in their muscles through learning motor skills. This means that they do not need to do repetitive exercises as we do them in a gym. The actions of learning each motor skill develops much strength. Kicking, for example, is one of the first motor skills that baby learns and it develops quite a bit of strength in the muscles of the legs. The action of lifting the legs and moving them (kicking) on her own requires strength. As baby grows and gains weight her limbs become bigger and heavier. This in turn builds even more strength. No need to put more weights on the machine at the gym, baby’s changes in her body size increase the challenge for her muscles.
In tummy-time, the action of lifting the head strengthens her head and neck muscles. Baby’s head is one of the heaviest parts of her body, so through practice of this motor skill her back and neck muscles become very strong and prepare her for sitting with excellent baby posture. As baby learns to move her own body weight around she gains a tremendous amount of strength.
BABY CRAWLING AND BABY ARM STRENGTH
Baby’s shoulders, hands, and arms needs to develop strength for the motor skill of crawling in the hands and knees position. This strength develops from the mini-milestone of pushing. Adults build arm, hand, and shoulder strength from push-ups. Babies do a version of a push up when they push their hands into the floor in tummy time or when they learn to push the hand down on a stair. The seven month old baby in the above photo is strengthening her arms as she pushes down into the stairs while learning the skill of climbing.
When a baby learns to lift her pelvis and pull her knees under her, yet remains with her forearms on the floor, her back will “cave in” or have a large arch to it. Once she strengthens the muscles of her arms and shoulders she can push down into the floor and get into the hands and knees crawling position. Now her back is arched less. This crawling position will build even more strength for baby as she supports all of her weight on only her hands and knees. She may need to pull up to this position and not move for a while. She has to develop strength in this position before she can move. Over the next several weeks, hands and knees crawling develops much strength in her arm and legs muscles which prepare her for the motor skill of standing up.
Dear Donna: I’m from South Africa, and enjoying your site so much. Wondering if you can help. My 8 month old baby boy started to belly crawl from 6 months and it seems like he is stuck there. He makes about 4 regular crawling movements but then returns to his belly. What can I do to help him? Thanks so much for your site!
3 COMPONENTS OF THE MOTOR SKILL OF CRAWLING
When do babies stop belly crawling and begin the hands and knees crawling? There are a few developments of a baby that need to occur before he masters the motor skill of crawling on his hands and knees. First, he must be stable in the hands and knees position. Some babies get onto their hands and knees and their knees are wider than their hips. It takes time for the to find the placement of their knees underneath their hip joints. Second, his hands must be able to support some of his weight and allow him to shift his weight forward on them. This is difficult if the fingers are still curled under. A baby who has learned to press his open hands down on the floor in tummy time in well-prepared for this part of the skill development of crawling.
Third, this hands and knees position marks a significant achievement for baby. This is the first time he has been supported only on his hands and knees. Prior to this achievement, baby has had much of his body in contact with the floor through the motor skills of kicking, rolling, lifting the head, tummy time, and belly crawling. It takes time for baby to develop the strength in this hands and knees position before he can move forward for long periods of time. This is why babies often hands and knees crawl for only and few paces and then drop back down onto their belly for the familiar pattern of belly crawling. They can get where they want to go much faster and they need more time to build in the hands and knees position.
Photos or video footage of your baby crawling will help me give you specific exercises for your baby. Please send some in if you can, and thanks for writing! We also need to remember that babies born early may need more time to strengthen their muscles since preemies usually have lower muscle tone. And some babies just want to take their time. I like to remind the mothers I work with that if I could be a baby again, I would spend a lot of time belly crawling. It develops a lot of strength, opens up the front of the hip joints, and powerfully teaches the coordination used for crawling, walking, and running. As a dance student for many years, these skills are an advantage as they are for athletes in many sports.
A week after receiving this email, the mother contacted me to tell me that the baby just began perfectly hands and knees crawling on a regular basis! He just need a bit of time! Congratulations to our Stellar Caterpillar in South Africa who has just mastered the important baby milestone of crawling!
Tummy Time for two
MOTOR SKILLS & SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT IN INFANTS
Mastering the baby milestone of tummy time provides baby with a comfortable way to spend time interacting with her friends. The skill of lifting the head during tummy time develops strength in the neck muscles which soon allow baby to keep her head upright for a very long time. She learns to enjoy baby play time on her tummy after developing this strength in her neck and back. She has use of her arms and hands to manipulate toys and can turn her head to see what is happening around her. She can watch her friends and her mother from this position. She is on eye level with a friend if she is also on her tummy, as the girls are in the above photo. Tummy time is no longer a tedious exercise, it is an enjoyable activity for engaging with the world around baby. The strength and stability attained through strengthening muscles gives baby the freedom to move around. When baby hates tummy time, try placing them near another baby so they see a friend when they lift their head. Soon you will see a social smile.
TUMMY TIME VS. BABY SITTING UP
Observe the babies in the photo above ages 5 1/2 and 7 months. If these babies were placed in a sitting position, which they are not ready for quite yet, they would be limited in their ability to look around. Often, when babies are put into the sitting position too soon they curl backward a bit into a slouch. This pulls them off of their pelvis enough so they do not feet stable enough to fully use their arms. The slouched position also makes it difficult to fully rotate the head and look upward. In fact, trying to look around may cause them to tip over because of the weight of the head moving on an unstable pelvis. The lack of stability in sitting makes it especially difficult to engage both the focus and the hands at the same time. If the babies did not get themselves into the sitting position they would not be able to get themselves out of it either. The baby girls in the above photo have learned to roll so they are free to move in and out of this position of communication with each when they want.
LEARNING THE MOTOR SKILL OF SITTING
The seven month old baby in the photo above will soon learn how to bring herself to a sitting position since she has developed the muscle strength for stability and excellent posture. She has mastered the motor milestones of rolling, tummy time, and lifting the head. Although there are several ways baby can learn to sit, many patterns of sitting occur through a fluid movement that combines rolling and pushing with the hands. When baby learns to bring herself to sitting she has strengthened and coordinated all of the parts that need to stabilize her body so she can use her hands to play with toys and move her head to socialize with mom and friends. A baby sitting up is more free to engage with toys and people because this posture frees the arms and hands and allows even more movement of the head.
I have a 4 month old baby and I don’t feel like we have been doing a good job of allowing tummy time. He has great head control and is starting to do much better with tummy time. He has not great interest in rolling over yet, but has shown some signs that he may start to. When we pick him up to put him in our lap he extends his legs and assumes a standing position which he seems to enjoy quite a bit. I have been able to hold his hands while he maintains his standing position, is this something that I should start discouraging or is it OK as long as I allow him to dictate whether or not he wants to stand? On several occasions he will seemingly stand from a supported squatting position. I just worry that I am doing more harm than good.
-From a concerned father
Stellar Caterpillar Answers: What a great question you have asked! Thank you. It is good to hear that your baby has strong neck muscles for head control and is learning to enjoy tummy time. At his age, these are two of the most important motor milestones he could learn and practice. They develop baby strength and prepare the body for motor skills to come much later such as crawling and standing. What is important to understand is that every baby has a reflex that makes them put their feet down in the standing position when they are held over your lap. By “reflex,” we mean that baby does not want to stand, he has no choice but to stand.
Please read the following two posts to learn more about baby reflexes:
Often, the baby smiles when put in standing on his feet while in your lap. This is because they like being on eye level with you. If you put him on his tummy and get down on the floor on your tummy too, he will enjoy looking at you when he lifts his head. And this is a better choice developmentally. Please keep in mind that baby needs to strengthen his bones as well as his muscles before he can stand. At 4 months old it is too soon to stand. Thanks again for your question. There is so much to learn about their development!
Recently in class a mother of a 4 month old baby was talking about her living room space. She and her husband enjoy watching sports on the weekend and she was wondering where to put the baby while watching the games. I asked her if she had some space on the floor. I suggested she push the coffee table off to the side of the room to make an area for the baby to play. I discussed choosing a quilt or a play mat to cover the area for baby. The mother looked at me with a questioning face and said, “But iI feel bad putting her down like that. Doesn’t she like sitting up better?” I replied, “You might feel that way because we sit up all the time as adults. Many adults are not comfortable on their tummies on the floor, so we fear babies are not either. Your daughter will love floor time if she is comfortable and has some toys. She will have a great time.” The mother smiled and said “Oh. That makes sense.”
During class we explored the motor skill of rolling. The babies were guided from tummy time into a roll onto their backs. Later they were guided from their backs onto their tummy. The parents learned tips for motor skill development to practice at home such as bending and stretching baby’s legs, rubbing the abdomen, and rolling baby onto her side. I explained the importance of floor time for baby to learn how to roll. “In a sitting position it is almost impossible for the baby to learn how to roll because much less of her body is in contact with the ground. She must learn how to shift her weight and move her arm or leg to take her onto her side and tummy/back,” I said. The moms noticed how the babies enjoyed being moved from their backs to their sides and finally to their tummies, and then back to their backs again.
The following week at class the mother who asked questions about floor time was smiling when she arrived at class. “Guess who has been enjoying floor time?!? She is doing tummy time and rolling all over the place. She loves it!” The mother continued to explain that she and her husband were enjoying watching sports and keeping the baby near them on a play mat. All seemed to be enjoying this family time!