Motor Development: The First Six Months

Baby lifted in the air Baby lifted in the air

This page describes some of the milestones that your baby will reach during the first six months of life. It is important to keep in mind, however, that every baby develops at his own pace, and that the ages listed are not set in stone. Also, this page describes development of the healthy baby who was born at full term. A baby who was born prematurely would meet these milestones a bit later than a full term baby.

Month one

By the time your baby is one month old, his neck and shoulder muscles are stronger than at birth, and he has better control of his head. If he is lying on his tummy, he may be able to lift his chin off the ground for a short time. However, you will still need to support your baby's head if you are carrying him around, and his head will continue to lag behind if you try to pull him from a lying position to sitting. When held in the sitting position, your baby's back will be almost completely rounded, and he may be able to hold up his head for a moment.

If held in the standing position, your baby will flop down at the knees and hips. His walking reflex is still intact though; when the sole of his foot is pressed on a flat surface, he will try to take a step.

Your baby still usually holds his hands in a closed position. If you open his fingers and give him something to hold, he will grasp it for a few seconds and then drop it.

Month two

By the end of the second month, you will notice continuing improvements in your baby's head control. When lying on his tummy, he will be able to lift his head and shoulders off the bed a few inches and support himself with his arms. If you hold him up against your shoulder, he should be able to hold his head up by himself for a short time.

If you place your baby on his back, he will raise his arms above his head in a U shape. This indicates that your baby is using his arms in a symmetrical manner, and it is a very important accomplishment. It means that your baby will soon be ready to use his hands together to accomplish a particular task.

If you hold your baby in a sitting position, you may notice that his back, though still quite rounded, is starting to straighten out. He may be able to hold his head up in this position for a very short time.

Your baby's grasp reflex continues to get weaker this month. As the grasp reflex disappears, your baby will start to grasp things voluntarily. If you try to give him an object to hold, his fingers will open. If he can grasp the object, he will try to bring it to his mouth.

Month three

This month, your baby's neck and shoulder muscles continue to become stronger. By the end of the third month, if he is placed on his tummy, he should be able to hold his head above the plane of the rest of his body. After the third month, a baby's ability to hold his head up when placed on his tummy is no longer used to assess head control.

Your baby's arm and hand coordination will continue to improve and become more deliberate. His grasp reflex has disappeared, and his hands are mostly open now. If you offer him a toy to hold, he will open his hand and try to hold it between his palm and his fingers. This is called the ulnar grasp. Because he has not yet learned how to use his thumb, he will almost inevitably drop the object soon after grasping it.

If you place your baby on his tummy or back, he will kick his legs vigorously. This is good exercise for the months ahead, in preparation for crawling and walking.

If you pull him into a sitting position, his head will lag only slightly. Once sitting, he will be able to hold his head up for longer periods.

Month four

By the end of the fourth month, your baby's back muscles are much stronger than before, and he has much better control over the movements of his arms and legs. The combination of these skills will allow your baby to roll from his stomach to his back with a bit of practice. However, he still does not have the strength to roll from his back to his stomach. He may find this very frustrating at times.

Your little one now has very good head control when held in the sitting position, and he can hold his head up constantly. However, if you suddenly sway your baby, his head will wobble, indicating that his head control is not totally complete.

Your baby will become quite fascinated with his hands and what he can do with them. He spends a lot of time watching his hands as he moves them toward objects. However, his coordination continues to be quite limited and he cannot move his thumb independently of his other fingers. Therefore, he still cannot pick up toys very well at this point.

Month five

Your baby is very flexible, and one thing he will enjoy thoroughly is bringing his toes to his mouth for a taste.

His neck, shoulder, and chest muscles continue to gain in strength. His back has straightened out and the muscle tone in his torso is firm. This allows him to support his upper body and sit for a few seconds without falling over. He is now able to roll over completely - from tummy to back and then from his back to his tummy. Now he is officially mobile.

Now, when you pull your baby to the sitting position, he will have no head lag at all. His head control is excellent now. If he is in the sitting position and you sway him, his head will not wobble at all.

Your baby is becoming much better at grasping and holding larger objects. He will try to cup his hand around a toy that he wants to pick up. If he manages to grasp the toy, he will use his fingers and mouth to explore it more fully. Babies like to put things in their mouths because the lips and tongue are very sensitive; they are great resources for exploring new objects.

Month six

By now, rolling over is no problem! Your baby may start to push his way along on his tummy, or propel himself backwards with his hands. Chances are that your baby will learn to sit up this month, if you prop him up in that position. He will be pretty wobbly, and he'll need to use his hands to support himself while sitting. His legs will be strong enough to stand, with your support, for a minute or two.

Around this time, your baby may start to lose interest in staring at his hand movements. Maybe this is because he is finally mobile, and able to explore other things!

Andrew James, MBChB, MBI, FRACP, FRCPC