Gross motor developmental milestones are the mastery of gross motor skills like: head control, rolling, sitting, crawling and walking. Many parents spend time wondering and worrying about whether or not their baby is “on track” with these milestones.
It is hard to resist comparing your baby to another baby, or to compare siblings that develop at different paces. I also get that it feels like an exact science of when your baby “should” be able to do something with his body.
Trust me, even as a physical therapist, I occasionally find myself falling into that trap. This is especially true with developmental skills outside of my area of expertise, like speech and early eating.
Something else to consider is how all of this is ingrained into us culturally - to hustle, to get ahead, to be productive, to win, etc. Unfortunately, this mindset in parenting can lead to pushing motor milestone development rather than just letting it happen naturally.
So with all of that said, this post is intended as a guide on when most typically developing babies reach gross motor developmental milestones during the first 20 month.
I would encourage readers to use it as a guide only. Please be open to the fact that every baby is different and will master milestones on his or her own timeline.
If you do have concerns that your child is not developing typically and is significantly outside of the average age ranges for developmental milestones, DO consult your pediatrician. Your baby’s doctor can provide any needed guidance and will refer you to all of the amazing resources out there, including Physical Therapy!
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HEAD CONTROL: 1.5-3.5 MONTHS
This includes your baby’s ability to lift his head against gravity and to keep his head from flopping around when held upright. Tummy time is an important daily practice to help your baby work towards acquiring this skill and it also really sets the stage for most other motor milestones.
Please check out this post for lots of tummy time tips and tricks!
ROLLING FROM BACK TO BELLY: 3-6 MONTHS
Rolling can be very exciting for a baby, as he figures out an early strategy to change positions and therefore perspective!
Keep in mind that when you baby starts to roll, you will want to stop swaddling. This is for safety and to reduce the risk of SIDS with infants.
I highly recommend this Love to Dream Swaddle Up Transition Bag for when you are ready to move away from the swaddle. I used it for my daughter and I absolutely swear by its ability to maximize sleep during this challenging transition.
Check out this post for more info on swaddling and when/how to STOP swaddling.
ROLLING FROM BELLY TO BACK: 3-8 MONTHS
Well tummy time just got a whole lot more interesting! Your baby can now get out of tummy time whenever he wants!
Even if you spend the whole tummy time session bringing your baby back onto his belly after he rolls himself onto his back, your baby is still getting all of the tummy time benefits. YOU are just much busier in this scenario!
If your baby always rolls in one direction, try to encourage rolling the other way. Symmetry is always a good thing with gross motor development!
BELLY CRAWLING: 4.5-10 MONTHS
Belly crawling has all the benefits of tummy time and gives your baby a mode of transportation, at least for short distances.
Not all babies do this one, and thats ok! As long as your baby is spending time on his belly or on all 4's, he is doing what he needs to do.
SITTING INDEPENDENTLY: 6-11 MONTHS
Sitting independently is so exciting for babies and their parents. Babies love seeing the world in a whole new way and enjoy the new means of social interaction.
It can feel like forever until your baby figures out how to sit up, but please let him figure it out in his own time rather than using infant seats or propping your baby up. I promise you baby WILL figure it out.
Propping a baby up in sitting interrupts his normal gross motor development, can cause a baby to skip crawling altogether, and can negatively affect spinal development.
For more information about infant seats, check out this post:
SITTING UP: 7-12.5 MONTHS
This is a baby’s ability to get in and out of sitting from other positions. We take these transitional movements for granted as adults, but they are crucial for independent mobility.
CRAWLING ON HANDS AND KNEES: 7-13 MONTHS
Crawling is such an important gross motor milestone for babies! It is perhaps the first most efficient and effective mode of transportation.
The time a baby spends crawling is critical for his shoulder and core development. It also initiates a reciprocal movement pattern between the right and left side of the body that is later important for walking.
STANDING INDEPENDENTLY: 8-18 MONTHS
Such a big age range, right?! Some babies can take longer than others with standing, and that can be for a variety of reasons.
Babies that spend more time in infant seats, swings, and other containers can take a little longer to stand and walk. These babies usually also spend less time moving freely on the floor, exploring how their bodies move.
Also, some babies are just more interested in the fine motor stuff for a bit, knowing that they will get to the standing and walking when they are ready. Every baby has unique interests.
WALKING INDEPENDENTLY: 10-20 MONTHS
Early walking is characterized by over 100 falls a day! This is just another example of how babies learn by trial and error, and they will fall less over time.
Believe it or not, tummy time and crawling actually play a huge role in learning to walk. Not only do these activities develop the leg strength and overall coordination for walking, but they also contribute to balance and weight shifting abilities.
Tummy time and crawling activate a baby’s core, and core strength is critical for balance. Also, that reciprocal movement of the legs and arms during crawling, translates directly into how your legs step and how your arms swing during walking.
I also highly recommend Baby 411 for a comprehensive list of all the first year developmental milestones and their typical age ranges, including fine motor and speech. This book has comprehensive information around virtually all topics you might be interested in for the first year of your baby's life, and was a real life saver for me!
So overall, you can see that all of these gross motor developmental milestones are interconnected. One skill beautifully leads to the next, organically and without much influence.
I know some parents might be tempted to work with their babies on developing these gross motor milestones. However, if you have a typically developing baby, my advice is to just let them be.
Yes, you will want to give your newborn tummy time sessions throughout the day. And yes, you will want to mostly keep your baby out of containers so he can explore and move his body freely.
Beyond that, trust your baby!
Your baby will master each milestone in his own time. We are genetically made for this stuff, and your baby instinctively knows what to do.
Also, remember, it is not a race! Just because your baby started walking later than someone else’s baby, does not set the pace for the rest of their lives, believe it or not!
Your baby is doing great! You are doing great!
Age ranges for milestones used in this post were acquired from evidence-based research:
Hadders-Algra M, Variation and Variability: Key words in human motor development. Physical Therapy
. 2010;90: 1823-1837
Other educational information from this post was acquired from professional experience.