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Gross motor development - the first 1000 days

Baby Tummy Time

Gross motor development is the process of refinement of all the big muscles of the body. It’s how your baby learns to coordinate his legs, mature his balance and use his body to run, jump, hop and skip.

Gross motor development forms the basis upon which fine motor skills develop. A child first needs to learn to sit up straight and strengthen his shoulders by crawling, climbing and hanging before his hands and fingers can be freed up for more refined and dexterous tasks such as writing, cutting or threading.

Remember, your baby is unique and will develop at his own unique pace 

Starting from newborn, here are some important and exciting gross motor developments you can expect to see as your little one grows.

  • Starting to move his arms and legs.
  • Bringing his feet to his mouth.
  • Rolling from his side to his back.
  • Starting to move his arms more symmetrically to reach for a toy.
  • Holding his head up with more control and for longer periods.
  • Starting to sit with support.
  • Swiping with his arms (e.g. at an object on an activity gym or mobile) while sitting with support or lying on his back.
  • Lifting his head and chest when he is on his stomach and supporting himself on extended arms.
  • Rolling from his stomach to his back.
  • Moving by rocking, rolling, or pivoting when on his stomach.
  • Later sitting supported for long periods.
  • Stamping his feet and jumping up and down when he is held in a standing position.
  • When he is on his stomach, he can push himself up onto his hands and draw up his knees.
  • He can roll from his back to his stomach.
  • He may move from sitting to lying on his stomach.
  • He may creep forward on his tummy.
  • He can balance himself while sitting.
  • He sits and bounces on his buttocks.
  • He pivots/ turns around while sitting.
  • He can “bum shuffle”.
  • He can reach across his body while sitting.
  • He creeps using his arms first, then his legs as well.
  • He can rock in the crawl position.
  • He can move from lying on his tummy to sitting and back to lying down.
  • He can pull himself into standing from sitting (if you hold his hands).
  • He starts to try and crawl, and will usually go backwards first.
  • He can stay standing for a few seconds by holding onto something, but falls back down to the sitting position.
  • He keeps his feet widely spread apart when standing and pushes his buttocks backwards.
  • He can move from sitting to crawling and back to sitting again.
  • He can stand unsupported and begins to walk.

It’s important to note that babies do not always have the same developmental challenges in their spotlights at the same time. The real measure of your child’s development is how they’re progressing compared to themselves - not anyone else. Remember, your baby is unique and will develop at his own unique pace. A solitary delay or lag is usually nothing to worry about and does not indicate any long-term issues. Watch out for a cluster of issues, especially if the delays are in more than just one area of development as this may need to be investigated.

Spend time with your child and trust your intuition as they develop, taking a keen interest in what they are doing and how they are doing it. If you are concerned about any aspect of your child’s development you can find support from various professionals (paediatricians, therapists and teachers) and be proactive in providing opportunities to help them reach their true potential.

Baby Mom Crawling

Here are some activities to help boost your baby’s gross motor development.

Tummy Time on Mum

Your legs and lap are probably the most useful tools you have to promote your baby’s physical development. Tummy time directly on the floor is not always the most enjoyable activity for small babies. Try making it slightly easier and fun for them by putting your little one over your lap. Tummy time on the floor is still very important, but, by using your lap, there are a few extra elements that you can add to this activity to build additional strength. Jenny Lange, Physiotherapist for Nubabi

What to do:

  1. Get down onto the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. Place your baby on his tummy over both your legs. His shoulders should fall freely in front of your one leg - this means that his arms and head will be completely free of any support.  
  2. Place a toy or object of interest on the floor in front of him and encourage him to engage with the toy.
  3. When your baby is ready for something a little more challenging, slightly lift your back leg, the leg furthest from his head. By doing this, you will force his weight forward and onto his arms, thus encouraging weight bearing through his arms. This is a skill he will need to acquire before learning to crawl.

Starting to Crawl

Crawling is a complex activity that involves the co-ordination of little arms and legs, as well as co-ordinating the movement of the right and left side of the body. When your baby is rocking happily on her arms and legs, she may need a little help learning how to free up her limbs before she can begin to crawl. Jenny Lange, Physiotherapist for Nubabi

What to do:

  1. Place your little one on her hands and knees in front of you. Place your hands around her lower back and pelvis and gently move her weight backwards. This frees up an arm so that she can move it forward.
  2. Help her to move one arm forward and then move the opposite leg forward. Continue now but moving the other arm forward, followed by the opposite leg.
  3. She may take some time to get used to this and be quite wobbly initially.  As she gets used to the reciprocal movement of opposite arms and legs, she will start to initiate the movement herself.

Note: Be aware that your little one may initially tip forward as you are moving her leg and could fall forward. While allowing her to feel the movement of her body tipping forward is helpful for development, you do not want your little crawler to bump her head of the floor! If necessary, slide one of your hands under her tummy or place one of your hands over her shoulders to provide support until she is comfortable with the movement.

Baby Cruising

When your little one can pull himself up onto a small table and shift his weight onto both legs, he should be ready to cruise around low furniture. This activity will help with a little encouragement to get started. Jenny Lange, Physiotherapist for Nubabi

What to do:

  1. When your baby is standing at a low table, encourage him to move sideways along the table to get to you, or even just to get a toy or object of interest. He will probably need to use both hands on the table and should walk sideways along the surface to get to you.  This helps to strengthen his hip muscles.  
  2. As he reaches you, give him a big cheer and clap to encourage him to try it again. Remember to encourage him to cruise in both directions and before your know it, he will be lifting his hands and he grows in strength and confidence.

For more activities to boost your baby’s Gross Motor Development and other developmental skills, visit Nubabi.

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