Motor Development in Infants: 0-3 months


Of all the developmental milestones that we notice in our infants at 0-3 months, motor development in infants is an outcome of all the neural systems taking place inside the body. You can easily judge whether the baby is on the right track of motor development by observing baby motor skills–her ability to move her body including her hands, legs and head. To summarise all the motor activities from 0-3 months, let’s categorise each month separately with some games and activities to help these developmental milestones develop successfully.

In this blog let’s discuss baby motor skills :

  • Month by month guide on motor development of your 0- 3 month old baby
  • Activities to further boost these baby motor skills
  • Measures to take when practising these activities
  • When to see a doctor

Motor Development in Infants: Month 1

Usually, a newborn baby has an open body position, where she lies on her back with arms and legs open. But her fists are closed and knees are bent. Most babies are seen in this position till about the end of the first month. Some jerky, un-coordinated movement of hands and legs can also happen. Also, she will try to bring her hands closer towards the body in response to any stimulus. She will also make jerky leg movements like kicking, pushing, or swaying, mostly involuntarily. Another involuntary move is a continuous rhythmic movement of feet (as if the baby is cycling). This can make changing diapers tricky.

As she lies on her back, as a part of the motor development in your infant, you’ll notice that she will try to move her head from one side to the other.

Infants show different movements that foreshadow later ones: neonates bring hand to mouth using the same movements which they will use months later for mouthing objects and eating.

Sacrey, Karl, & Whishaw, 2012

Sucking and rooting reflex is seen, which are an essential part of facial motor activity, as is thumb sucking to which some children take naturally to.

When you take the baby for a shower or lay her down in passive tummy down position, you will notice that she will try to raise her head and keep it that way and move it, even though the movement is very brief and slight as the neck muscles are still under the developmental phase. This is all part of baby motor skills.

When you start talking to her, she will try to maintain eye contact and focus on the mother’s face, especially. These reflexes help in latching process and hold on firmly for breastfeeding.

Motor Development in Infants: Month 2

When it comes to discussing motor development in infants, then closer to two months, the head movement is a lot easier for the baby (For other developmental milestones of 2 months old baby, read our blog here). The neck muscles are acting even more strongly now. With each movement, the muscle property gets activated. The jerkiness of legs and hands is also reduced with more synchronised and coordinated movements. Now the baby is aware of the presence of hands and legs. 

Side-lying position – The baby attains the developmental milestone of side-lying to any one side of the body. This happens around the 2nd week of the 2nd month. She actively performs this activity. It is the initial stage for tummy down position (getting on the prone lying). So, encourage her to turn on her sides as much as you can. 

Hand to mouth – As stated earlier, the baby now identifies her hands and legs in space. So, the hand to mouth movement is seen first in this month. The baby takes the thumb or the index finger inside the mouth. It is a sign that the baby is hungry, or she may be trying to soothe herself through this. This is an important developmental sign of baby motor skills.

Unclenching fists – Some babies start opening and closing movement of the fist. It may differ from baby to baby. But, mostly babies start unclenching their fists by the 3rd week of the 2nd month.

Motor development in Infants: Month 3

You can now see a whole new little human as your baby. As she has now started doing almost all the fun activities that you were eager to watch. Her head is almost steady now with less wobbling. She has gained enough strength for her neck and upper body muscles and can easily lift her head against gravity. You will notice that she tries to practise tummy time when awake. She will also try and push her chest portion upwards with the support of her forearms in a tummy down position. Her spine has developed the secondary curves (Lumbar and cervical area). 

The movement of the legs and hands are more coordinated, and no jerkiness is present as part of improving baby motor skills. She loves to swing her lower limbs more often now. The bone growth is rapid in this phase.By the end of the 3rd month, she will be able to raise her head from 45 degrees to almost 90 degrees. Symmetrical movement on both sides of the body is seen here.

Sometimes the baby can try to pull up the legs and hold them. Now she has developed the sense of identifying the body parts in space. So, she will have more purposeful kicks and pushes. And not to be surprised, she gets a near perfect hand eye co-ordination as well closer to the end of three months. Opening up a closed fist now becomes a regular part of her movements. 

You have plenty of opportunities to enhance your baby’s motor skills by trying various plays and games. Below are a few examples :

Activities to enhance your baby’s motor skills – Month 1 

  1. Tummy time: You can try practicing tummy time whenever the baby is awake. But only under your supervision. Make it last for no more than 10-15 minutes, as she might get cranky. Tummy time is one of the most effective way to enhance motor development in infants. 
  2. Communicate: Keep the baby on your chest in a tummy down position and start communicating with her. Communication not only boosts motor development in children but also social, emotional, and language skills.
  3. Talking stimulates baby development: Talk to her, sing a song, hum, make peculiar sounds, and call her by her name. Though she hardly understands what you say, she will try to raise her head in response to your voice. This will help in strengthening the neck muscles and core muscles as well.
  4. Play gym for motor development in children: You can use a play gym to boost your baby’s motor skills. Place your baby under it. She will love watching the toys move on the bars above her head and try and hold them. This stretching out will boost her muscles.
  5. Tie balloons  on the bed: Tie balloons of various cartoon characters, different colours, sizes at the corners of the bed. She would move her head to look at these balloons.
  6. Rattle toys: Shake rattle toys in front of her to stimulate her development.
  7. Mirror to encourage baby development: You can use a baby-safe mirror in front of her. Tell her which is her mouth, eyes, nose, and cheeks.
  8. Sensory stimulus: Stroke her at the back of her neck, during tummy time. This gives her a sensory stimulus to raise her head and is important for motor development in children.

 50-70% babies start responding to a stimulus by bringing the hand towards the target by the end of the 1st month of life.

Tips to follow while playing with your baby

  • Cut her nails regularly as she tries to bring her hand near to face. She might scratch herself accidentally.
  • Do not stretch the baby’s head forcefully to move in an attempt to boost motor development in children.
  • During play time do not irritate the baby by lengthening the activity time in an attempt to boost your child’s development.
  • Do not keep any sharp objects near the baby, as she keeps moving her legs all the time. While playing on the bed, place your baby in the middle of the bed or hold the baby in arms or keep her on a mat on the floor. 

Activities to enhance motor development in infants – Month 2 

  1. Head lift: Practice head lifting activity by placing a toy in front of her during tummy time. Move the toy in different positions, so that she tries to move her head in the respective directions as well.
  2. Mirror play: Place the baby on a flat surface. Keep a baby-friendly mirror in front of her. Look into the mirror along with the baby and make her identify each part of her face.
  3. Massages: Massaging can be very beneficial, as well. When applying oil over the back area, stretch out the legs and hands in a playful manner. Move the legs in the manner of pedalling a bicycle which is very effective to improve motor development in children.
  4. Leg movements: Place the baby on your lap. Now passively move her legs (bending and straightening of the knee), tickling her feet, so that she reacts by moving the feet away from it. Check our flex on activity for more details.
  5. Play with a rattle: Show a rattle toy and make a sound. Give the toy to your baby. Let her hold it by grasping firmly. Encourage her to play with the toy and produce sound by herself.

    Tips to follow while playing with your baby

  • While holding the baby, support the head of the baby with your forearm correctly. And the spine of the baby should be parallel to your forearm.
  • Never leave the baby unattended on the floor or bed.
  • Do not give any damaged toy to the baby to hold, as it might hurt your child.
  • Make the baby wear loose and comfortable dresses so that she can move her body parts easily and comfortably.

Generally speaking, infants’ gradual triumph over gravity precedes top down from head to feet. The top down progression is especially striking in the development of sitting. At first, head and trunk control is so poor that unsupported infants fold in half, falling chest to legs. Increasing control moves slowly down the spine—neck, shoulders, waist, hips. Infants eventually “tripod sit” by stabilizing their torso with arms propped between their outstretched legs.

The development of motor behavior by, Karen E. Adolph and John M. Franchak

Activities to enhance motor development in infants – Month 3 

  1. Play games: Spend more time playing games. Air swing activity is a fun way for your baby to develop her neck muscles.
  2. Let her grab toys: Involve her hands to catch a toy or grab a soft toy placed in front of her. A simple play, yet very effective in encouraging motor development in your infant.
  3. More tummy time: Encourage tummy down position more often during play time. 
  4. Reach out for her favourite teddy: Place the baby in a comfortable position. Keep all her favourite toys (rattles, musical animals, soft toys, etc). Let her reach out for the toys and hold them. 
  5. Call by her name: Stand in front of her and call her by the name. She will try to lift up her head and look at you.
  6. Play with moving toys: Keep some moving objects on different sides in front of her. Observe her reaction. Encourage her to raise her head and look around for the objects. This is an easy way to boost motor development in infants.

Tips to follow when playing with your baby

  • Do not keep any hard or sharp-edged object in front of her face or eye, as it might be dangerous for her.
  • The room where the baby is playing should be well ventilated so that she does not feel suffocated.
  • Take her outdoors whenever possible. It helps the baby absorb Vitamin D from the sun, essential for her bones’ development.

The first three months are the most crucial phase of life as all the vital and necessary developments take place during this phase. But, each child is a different individual. You should never compare your child with others as they will have their own pace of moving ahead. So, you need to keep track of all the developmental milestones that your baby achieves.

When to see a doctor if you notice delays in motor development in infants

Apart from regular issues of ill health, you should check your baby for anything unusual you can find in your baby’s development. Some developmental delay signs are listed below: 

  1. If the baby does not move her head in response to any stimulus.
  2. When you feel the baby is not gaining muscle strength, or does not raises head at around three months also.
  3. No hand-eye coordination is seen at three months old.
  4. She does not show grasping reflex.
  5. If the baby is not interested in tummy time, no matter how you try.
  6. Or the baby does not achieve the tummy down position till the 3rd month.
  7. If she does not involve her hands or legs in movement and keeps them at the sides of body.
  8. Or an asymmetrical movement of hands and legs are seen on both sides.
  9. If she is irritated quickly after play time.
  10. It might be a issue of concern if you find that your baby does not show any reaction upon seeing her shadow in the mirror.
  11. If she does not blink her eyes for long time.
  12. You might want to check with the doctor if there is the presence of primitive reflexes (reflexes present at birth) till the end of 3 months.
  13. If any abnormality in facial structure is seen.
  14. Adequate bone development should happen by the end of 3 months and if the baby looks very skinny (less muscle bulk) or you feel the bone development is missing, check with your doctor.
  15. If she does not gain weight as per requirement.
  16. Or she looks small in size (no improvement in height).
  17. If she does not take her milk sufficiently and becomes cranky.
  18. When your baby does not smile back at you after many attempts or games, and shows this as repeated behaviour, it is suggested you check with the doctor. This is an important milestone of emotional and social development at 3 months of age.
  19. If she is hyper active or hypo active irrespective of her age it might be a sign of delayed motor development in infants.
  20. Or is not able to lift up her head, leg or hands voluntarily.
  21. If there is continuous drooling of saliva.

Spend as much time with your little one as you can, as these moments are very crucial and enjoyable. You will miss them when they grow up. But, provide them a good sustainable atmosphere where they can grow happily.

Happy Parenting.

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