Baby mobility and physical skills

By: Christine Langlois

Author: Canadian Living


Baby mobility and physical skills

By: Christine Langlois

Babies learn to control the muscles in the upper half of their bodies well before they learn to control those in the lower half. At about six months of age, your baby will begin learning to control her hips, knees, legs, and feet; she'll begin to sit up without support, but only for a few seconds. Gradually, she will learn to balance herself, and you can help her practise this balancing skill in a variety of ways.

Put her in a sitting position with cushions or pillows around her to provide a little support so she can sit and learn to balance herself for longer periods. When she starts wobbling, she'll fall comfortably into the soft pillows rather than on to a hard floor. When playing with your baby on the floor, sit her facing you between your outstretched legs so she can grab on to them for support. Place toys in front of her so she will reach for them and eventually develop the muscles that help her balance herself without using her hands as props for support.

Sitting without support
As your baby learns to sit without support, she will be able to use her hands more freely to gesture and to play with toys on her own. Once she can sit and play alone, she gains some independence. But she will need help to get into a sitting position at first. Soon she will reach to you with her hands, signalling that she wants you to pull her up. Then she'll try to use furniture and other supports as a handle to help her sit up.

Safety is important at this stage, and the safest, most comfortable place for sitting practice is a well-padded floor. If you sit your baby on an armchair, sofa, or bed, you'll have to keep constant watch that she doesn't tumble down to the floor As your baby becomes strong enough to sit alone, she will begin to lunge forward to reach nearby toys or other objects of interest. Encourage this lunging forward by placing a toy in front of the baby just out of her reach. Lunging forward is a physical skill that leads to crawling on her tummy, then creeping forward on hands and knees.


Crawling around on their tummies is a first means of locomotion for many babies. Once they begin to roll over at about six months, they rock back and forth on their tummies in the crawling position, but don't make much progress forward at first. It takes more activity and muscle-building before your baby begins to use his hands, arms and knees to move forward, and he may have trouble moving-in-the right direction at first.

Their style is less important than the physical effort they expend and the experience they gain in doing so. Some babies start by crawling backwards or sideways, before moving forward. Some slither on their stomachs, others use their arms, hands, and feet, with their bottoms and knees raised. They begin to scoot about on one knee and drag the other leg behind-which leads to creeping.

Crawling styles
Some babies never crawl at all -- crawling and creeping are not skills that are predictable stages in every child's development. It's important, however, to encourage your baby and give him ample opportunity to move around and explore the world, using whatever styles of locomotion work for him. You can encourage your baby to crawl by placing toys or other interesting objects just beyond his reach. As he becomes more adept, create obstacle courses for him to crawl through and over, using pillows, sofa cushions, or a foam rubber roll. Hide behind the obstacles and play Peekaboo to pique his interest even more.

Give your baby lots of supervised time on the floor so that he has the opportunity to move and explore. Cover his knees so that his skin would chafe or get sore, which could be uncomfortable and discourage him from crawling more. Be alert to the danger that your baby might tip or pull over a chair or his carriage. He should wear a safety harness when you put him into a highchair, carriage, stroller, or car seat.

Crawling opens up a new social skill for your baby because he can now come to you. He doesn't have to wait for you to come to him. Crawling means that your baby takes a more active role in exploring the world. He also develops his problem-solving skills by trying various styles of crawling or other methods of locomotion to get where he wants to go or reach the thing that interests him.

After your baby can comfortably crawl forward, he may begin crawling upward too. He will enjoy climbing over pillows, cushions, or furniture, and up stairs under your watchful eye. This can be a nerve-wracking time for parents. You need to help him get back down the stairs at first, and teach him to back down step by step rather than to crawl down face forward. He may use another method altogether for getting around or learn to pull himself up and begin standing, then cruising (standing and moving while holding on to items for support), and eventually walking.

When you hold your baby in a standing position on your lap, she won't be able to support herself until about seven months. But she will enjoy "stepping" and bending her knees and bouncing up and down while you hold her securely. As she gains strength in her legs and hips from this and other practice, she will soon stand for a few seconds on her own when you pull her up to a standing position. Between nine and twelve months, she will begin to pull herself up by using furniture, rails, the bars of a playpen, or your clothes. Encourage her by putting a toy on a sofa or low table where she will have to stand up to get it.

Teach your baby to use her feet as a firm base of support. If the feet are turned in, gently turn them out so she can plant herself more firmly. If your baby falls easily, support her legs by placing your hands behind her knees. Once your baby can pull herself up to stand, she may hold on to the furniture or another support to stay standing and look around for a while.

Although your baby may enjoy pulling herself up, standing and looking around, she won't know at first how to sit down and will take quite a few falls. Or she might cry for you to come and rescue her. You can help her learn how to sit down by lowering her body gradually to the floor. She will eventually learn to let go of the furniture and use her hands to help her sit down. Take care that she doesn't lose confidence or hurt herself.

As your baby learns to stand holding on to your leg, you will gradually feel less of the baby's weight as she provides more of her own support. Once she is comfortable pulling herself up, standing and looking, she'll inevitably want to begin moving around. She'll begin cruising by inching her way along a sofa or another piece of furniture, holding on for support. At first, she may cruise in a sideways, tentative fashion, moving both hands together, clinging for support. But with practice, she will gain confidence and cruise along faster, moving hand over hand. She'll soon discover that her legs can bear her whole weight, and she'll rely less and less on her hands for support. At some point in her cruising adventures, your baby will let go for a few moments, stand freely, and take those first unsupported steps. These are tremendously exciting developments and a cause for great family celebration.

It's easiest for your baby to balance herself using her bare feet. Shoes can be awkward and socks can make hard floors slippery and treacherous. Once a baby can stand and cruise, she'll be eager to stand and play. Put some of her favourite toys just out of reach to encourage this. But remember that a cruising baby is likely to reach and grab for any object en route. Be sure to babyproof your rooms-remove light, flimsy furniture that would support her or could topple over on her; cover the sharp corners on furniture you can I t remove. Put out of reach any breakable objects and the electric cords for table lamps, telephones, and similar items.

As your baby makes progress toward walking, you'll be excited and want to encourage her. Just remember to allow her to progress at her own pace. About half of babies walk by the time they are one year old, but there is great variation in the age range. Some babies start as early as nine months, others may not walk until they are nineteen months old.

How quickly a baby moves through the sequence of standing, cruising, and walking without support depends on many factors: the baby's self-confidence, motivation, muscle strength and physical coordination, opportunity, and genes. Hurrying a baby on to the next milestone can damage his self-confidence and slow his development. Of course, once your baby is walking, your initial excitement may be tempered by the necessity of keeping up with a fully mobile toddler.

Concern about incidents with walkers led Health Canada to introduce a voluntary standard in 1989. Since no walkers with wheels met the standards, distributors took them off the market. Today, stores sell activity bouncers or rockers with no wheels that allow babies to stand and hold on and, thus, exercise their legs but stay in one place.

Hidden dangers and drawbacks
However, parents can still buy walkers with wheels at yard sales, so injuries still occur. The most common and the most serious injuries in wheeled walkers involve the baby toppling down a flight of stairs. A baby in a wheeled walker may pick up enough speed to crash through a safety gate. He can easily trip over toys, loose rugs, and other objects in the way.

For developmental reasons, walkers have some drawbacks. Research shows that the babies who spend a lot of time in walkers show delays in learning how to walk correctly. A baby needs to develop muscles in the legs and hips through her own efforts, and practise the many body movements and skills, like balancing and failing, that are needed for walking. Crawling and cruising prepare your baby for her first unsupported steps and walking. Too much time in a walker limits this kind of exploration.

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Baby mobility and physical skills