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Gross Motor Development in the First Year of Life

Infants develop at a rapid rate that is truly a miracle to watch. I am currently expecting my first child in March and despite my clinical training and knowledge as a Physical Therapist, I anticipate being in complete awe at the tiny movements and skills that my little one gains each day.

This article is meant to give a brief overview of the gross motor development of birth through 1 year of age. Each child is unique in their development and there is variation in the precise “age” of each milestone met. However, this overview is meant to assist you as a caregiver to provide experiences to promote overall development. It may also serve to notice differences in your child’s development, which may be worth sharing your concerns with the pediatrician. All our PTs at APT are available to assist with evaluation of your child through a brief screening at no cost to you if you have any questions regarding your child’s development. We are here to support you throughout your child’s life, especially in those early days.

As an infant, your child will demonstrate changes that occur rapidly. You will notice that the child’s movements are rather uncoordinated (which is often very adorable!). Over the first 2 months of life, the child’s movements will become smoother and more purposeful. The child will begin to bring his/her hands to the mouth, briefly lift their head during tummy time, and begin to interact with their environment by reacting to noises and moving their eyes, especially when looking at faces.

Between months 2-4, the child will continue to increase in strength and coordination. Around 4 months of age, a child should be able to hold their head on their own when being held in your arms. The child may begin to push onto their forearms to prop when placed on their stomach, along with attempting to roll from belly to back or back to belly. They will begin to interact with toys and attempt reaching towards them.

Between months 4-6, the child will continue to improve on the skills listed above. Around 6 months of age, a child is attempting to roll in both directions and sit independently. Between months 6-9, a child’s mobility vastly improves. By 9 months, most children can transition into and out of sitting, are attempting crawling, and can sit without falling over. Between 9-12 months, the child is attempting to stand and prefers to be in an upright position. They may pull to stand at a support surface and even move side to side, often referred to as cruising. Around 1 year of age, the child may be attempting to stand independently and walk on their own for a couple of steps. Most children can walk independently for longer distances between months 12-15.

The amazing process of gross motor development is a complex interaction of increasing strength, balance, coordination, and postural control in the first year of life. Having the knowledge of these general milestones will assist in ways to interact with your child and provide rich learning opportunities in a variety of environments to promote overall development. The knowledge of these milestones will also help you to communicate any concerns to your pediatrician regarding the child’s development, allowing you to access the support you need. Each child is a unique gift to all those who surround them. As PTs, we are passionate about promoting gross motor development in all children, so they can participate in all that life offers. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to our office if you have any questions or concerns about gross motor development!

– Audrey Harsh, PT, DPT