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31 Mar

0027aStop and think about the complex wrist, hand and finger movements involved in things like zipping a sweatshirt, tying shoes, or using a can opener. Amazing, right? Long before these fine motor tasks became automatic, our hands went through developmental stages. Below we take a look at hand development from birth through your baby’s first year.

This timeline is based on averages. If you’re worried about your baby’s hand development, check in with your pediatrician for guidance.

Birth to 1 Month: “Little Fighter” Fists

At this stage, your new baby clenches her fists most of the time. This is due to the palmer grasp reflex. This reflex is also why, if you place your finger on her palm, she grasps and squeezes it. Around 6 weeks she begins to notice her hands. She studies them and touches one with the other, but she still has no idea they’re part of her body.

2-3 Months: Hello, Hands!

The palmer grasp reflex disappears and your baby starts to keep her hands open. She swats at nearby dangling toys, and if you put a toy like a rattle in her hand she grasps and shakes it briefly. When she hears the noise, she looks to see where it came from. This type of play teaches her that her hands are part of her body, and that she can use them to achieve a goal. It also begins to develop hand-eye coordination. At this stage she touches her face with her hands, exploring her features. Bringing her hands to her mouth helps her develop a sense of midline (understanding that her body has two sides, and where the middle is).

4 Months: Touching Everything

Now that your baby is well-acquainted with her hands, she tries to touch and grab everything! She swats at things with increased precision. Although she still can’t pick anything up, she clumsily tries to gather up a toy with both hands. She holds and drops objects that you place in her hand, and develops an initial understanding of cause and effect as she plays.

5 Months: Finally, I Can Pick it Up!

Although she still can’t use her fingers, your baby now begins to pick up toys by grasping them in her palm. She transfers toys from one hand to the other.

6-7 Months: Banging and Clapping

Your baby practices using her fingers by raking toys across the floor and picking them up. She now uses her palm, thumb, index and middle fingers to grasp. The real fun starts as she holds an object in each hand and bangs them together. She manipulates objects, and explores them from different angles. She wants to put everything in her mouth, which is a normal way for babies to learn about the world. The most endearing fine-motor skill at this stage? Clapping!

8 Months: Look Mom, I Can (Sort Of) Feed Myself!

Your baby develops a new, more precise way to pick things up: Using her thumb, index finger and middle finger. You can try allowing her to feed herself, which she will do clumsily (and messily!). This is one of the best ways for her to practice her fine-motor skills. She may also be able to hold a cup, although actually bringing it to her mouth to drink comes later.

9-10 Months: The Great Pincer Grasp

One of the most important fine-motor skills—the pincer grasp—emerges as your baby begins to pick up small objects with her thumb and index finger. Again, mealtimes are a great time to practice this. Foods like cooked peas work well. She will have a blast picking them up and squishing them, and may even eat a few! At this stage she also uses her hands for more complicated play like opening drawers and putting things into and taking them out of containers.

11-12 Months: Increased Precision

Play becomes increasingly more precise and complex as your baby uses her hands for activities like making a 2-block tower. A more mastered pincer grasp allows her to play with thin objects, like strings. She can also hold a crayon and drink from a cup on her own.

It isn’t always obvious that these first-year stages of hand development are fine motor skills. It’s later, when toddlers learn to dress themselves or eat with a spoon that hand development takes the stage. But that same pincer grasp she uses to pick up and squish peas leads to holding a pencil, writing, zipping a sweatshirt, and endless other tasks! Her early, clumsy attempts to use her hands and fingers are the foundation for fine motor skills she will use throughout her life.

30 Mar

0026aNow that your baby has gained head control and learned to roll over, she is ready to pull herself up to sit! This exciting milestone offers her a new way to move and a new view of her surroundings.

Like other gross-motor milestones before it, sitting up continues to prepare your baby for future movement (next up: crawling!). It nurtures her sensory-motor development and broadens her language acquisition, both of which we’ll talk about below.

When Do Babies Sit Up?

Around 6 months, you will be able to place your baby in a seated position and she will use her arms to support herself and stay there for limited periods of time. Around 7 months, she will have good balance while seated without using her arms as support, and may bend forward or backward to reach for things. Around 8 months, she will begin to pull herself up to sitting on her own.

Some babies reach these stages of sitting sooner, some later. If you’re worried about your baby’s development, your pediatrician can help determine if she’s on track.

Sitting and Other Gross-Motor Milestones

Pediatric Physical Therapist Dr. Andrea Hayward, MSPT, DPT explains that pulling up to sit on her own is an extraordinary feat for your baby. It requires a lot of pelvic, truck and arm strength to sit up, and a lot of balance and coordination to be able to twist, bend, lean, and play using both hands. All of this prepares her for her biggest gross-motor challenge yet: Crawling!

Sitting and Sensory-Motor Integration

Sitting is a big milestone for your baby’s “internal” senses—vestibular and proprioceptive, both of which are crucial for balanced, coordinated movement. The vestibular sense is an understanding of our bodies in space. It allows us to know how our body is positioned in relation to the ground and to objects around us. The proprioceptive sense is an understanding of the relative position of our body parts.

Pediatric Occupational Therapist Natasha Bravo, M.S., OTR/L explains that sitting refines these senses in important ways: It teaches your baby to understand that her body is vertical rather than horizontal, and that her head is further from the ground than when she is lying down. She learns how to use her body to transition from one position to another, shift weight from side to side, and catch herself from falling if she starts to topple over.

Language Development

Throughout our articles on gross-motor milestones we highlight how each offers new opportunities for your baby to have meaningful interactions with you during play. These interactions, according to Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist Mandy Alvarez, M.S., CCC-SLP, are what drive her language development.

Sitting up brings a new, dynamic element to play. When your baby can pull to sit on her own and both of her hands are free, she can manipulate objects in a new way. She may hold an object in each hand and bang them together, or use her fingers to move objects across the floor. This creates new opportunities for you to label things and actions, narrate what’s happening, and engage in back-and-forth “conversation” with her. All of this teaches her about expressing herself, listening, cause and effect, and understanding non-verbal language.

Our BabySparks app has plenty of activities you can do with your baby to support her as she learns to get into and out of a seated position. Soon she will be on the move crawling, and you will be on the move keeping up with her!

30 Mar

0025aOther gross motor milestones may seem more worthy of celebration, but head control is a developmental powerhouse! It’s the precursor to moving the entire body, which starts with rolling over and goes on to sitting up, crawling, cruising, and walking. It’s the gateway to the world of food, because it prepares your baby to handle purees. And, it gets your baby ready to speak and introduces her to the wide world of language.

At birth and for the first month, your baby’s neck muscles are weak so it’s important to fully support her head at all times. The amount of support she needs will lessen as her neck muscles grow stronger.

When do Babies Gain Head Control?

Babies can typically lift their heads during tummy time at about a month old. Head control continues strengthening until it’s well-established, around 6 months.

Below are average stages of head control. Some babies move through them more quickly than others, so don’t worry if yours seems to be taking her time. You can always ask your pediatrician if you’re worried about her development.

  • Around 1-2 months: Your baby will lift her head while on her tummy, and may turn it from side to side.
  • Around 3-4 months: When she’s in her carseat she will hold her head in the middle, and when you carry her upright she will hold her head up for varying amounts of time. She will lift her head 45 degrees while on her tummy, and hold it steady.
  • Around 5-6 months: She will lift her head when she’s on her back and hold her head steady in any position.

Head Control and Movement

Head control is an important step towards moving the entire body. Lifting her head strengthens your baby’s neck, shoulder, and back muscles, which helps her use her arms to push up from the floor or against you while you’re holding her. All of this strengthening and pushing will increase until one day she will roll over.

Pediatric Occupational Therapist Natasha Bravo explains that head control allows your baby to look around, which strengthens her vision. At the same time, moving her head to look at something strengthens her neck muscles. In this way, head control and vision reinforce each other and prepare her to use her eyes and body together for purposeful body movement.

Head Control and Feeding

Around 6 months, when your baby has strong head control and sits up on her own, she is ready for the exciting world of solid food! According to Pediatric Speech Language Pathologist Chris Rowlee, this is because as her neck and trunk gain strength, her larynx (voice box) lowers and her cheeks thin out—all of which prepare her to handle her first solids (purees). For more on this, see our article about introducing solid foods.

Head Control and Speech & Language Development

Head control improves respiratory control, which is what powers speech. Around 5 months, when your baby has decent head and respiratory control, she will graduate from cooing to babbling (lip sounds like “ba-ba” and “ma-ma”, and tongue sounds like “da-da”).

Being able to move her head up and down and side to side also introduces your baby to a whole new world! Language begins to develop as she takes in more information from her environment. She will turn towards noises and watch activity around her.

Mandy Alvarez, a pediatric speech language pathologist, sees head control as a gateway to play: “When babies can lift and move their heads they can interact more easily with others, which is the basis of social communication—a fundamental aspect of language.” Additionally, head control coincides with reaching for toys (around 4-6 months). “When babies reach for toys, caregivers label them,” Alvarez says. “As you label these things, your baby begins to understand vocabulary.”

What’s the number one thing you can do to help your baby gain head control? Tummy time! Our BabySparks app has several fun activities you can do to help strengthen this skill and get her ready for her next exciting milestones.

29 Mar

0028aLike other gross motor milestones, rolling over is full of fuel for your baby’s development. It’s his first experience moving his entire body, and continues to strengthen his muscles, balance, and coordination. It’s a big step in his sensory development as he builds an internal sense of his body and how he can move its parts to achieve a goal. Rolling helps him learn to interact with his environment as he is exposed to new textures, temperatures, sights, smells, tastes and sounds. Language learning widens as he begins to purposefully explore his surroundings and seek out interaction with you.

When do Babies Roll Over?

Babies start to roll from front to back around 4 months. They usually master rolling from both front and back around 6 months. Like all milestones, this is based on averages. If you’re concerned about your baby’s development, you can always check in with your pediatrician.

Pediatric Physical Therapist Dr. Andrea Hayward, MSPT, DPT says that often, babies roll over for the first time by accident. They’ve spent many weeks on their tummies lifting and moving their heads, strengthening their muscles, and leaning from one side to another. One day they lean far enough to one side in the right position and boom!

After that, driven by vision and curiosity, your baby will roll to explore his environment.

Rolling Over and Movement

Rolling over is your baby’s first experience with full-body, independent, purposeful movement. It uses and strengthens all of his muscles. Especially important are the pelvis and trunk muscles, which he will soon use to pull himself up to sitting. Also important for sitting up are the arms, which he will use to push against the floor, prop himself up, and catch himself if he starts to fall over.

Rolling Over and Sensory-Motor Integration

Sensory-motor integration is what allows us to use our bodies without thinking about it (knowing how high to lift our leg to step out of the tub, for example) and being able to move in a balanced and coordinated way.

Pediatric Occupational Therapist Natasha Bravo, M.S., OTR/L explains that rolling helps develop two important senses involved in sensory-motor integration: Vestibular (a sense of our body in space) and proprioceptive (a sense of our body parts and how they work together). Rolling helps your baby understand where his body parts are in relation to the ground, to each other, and to objects around him. These “internal” senses help him navigate his environment and adapt to information he receives through his “external” senses (touch, sight, smell, taste and sound).

Our environment is full of external sensory information, which would be overwhelming if we hadn’t learned to understand and respond to it as babies. Movement milestones gradually introduce your baby to sensory information and what to do with it: He rolls from a soft blanket onto a wood floor, feels that it is hard and cold, and rolls back onto the blanket. Or he rolls into a spot of sunshine, notices the light has changed, and closes his eyes against the brightness. In these ways, he becomes accustomed to taking in, organizing, and using information from the environment.

Rolling Over and Language Development

Curiosity-driven play, within the context of meaningful interactions, is the main driver of language development for your baby, and will be for much of his childhood. Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist Mandy Alvarez, M.S., CCC-SLP says that rolling over is an important milestone for play because you can begin to follow your baby’s lead as he explores a whole new world. He will seek out things that interest him and you can follow along, labeling and talking about them. He will love this interaction with you, and it will motivate him to continue exploring and connecting with you. These interactions also teach him about expressing himself (I want that toy), cause and effect (I shake this toy, you laugh), and non-verbal communication (you’re smiling, that means I should keep doing this).

The more your baby rolls around, the more he will learn, so try to keep him on the ground as much as possible! Remember to baby-proof rooms and keep an eye on him (or he may eat the dog food). If you’re outside, bonus! Rolling on grass offers a great sensory experience for ba-bies. Check out our BabySparks app for over a dozen activities you can do with your baby to encourage this important milestone.

14 Mar

0024aPicture this: You’re finally getting out of the house with your new baby. Your pediatrician gave you the thumbs up to take her out in public, and after weeks of round-the-clock breastfeeding and fewer showers than normal, you pull up to a department store. You click her carseat into the stroller and walk into the store. You feel great. You’re wearing a cute nursing top and even brushed your hair! After a splendid 30 minutes a woman approaches you, smiles, and speaks quietly near your ear, “Listen,” she says. “You’re leaking. Do you know where the nursing pads are? If not, I’ll show you.”

You look down and realize you’ve been cruising the store with two big, wet circles on your shirt. A few minutes later in the nursing aisle, you toss one, then two boxes of nursing pads into your cart and thank the woman profusely. “Oh,” she says, “I’ve been there.”

Breastfeeding is wonderful, but when it’s hard and even exhausting, these awkward moments can offer some comic relief:

The Loud Eater

Some babies are chuggers. They latch on, suck hard, and swallow like an athlete at the end of a triathlon. If you’re out in public, everyone within a small radius will get to hear the sucks, sighs and glug-glugs of your baby thoroughly enjoying her feeding. Just smile and carry on, mama.

The Forceful Letdown

Some women have “overactive letdown” (milk that comes out really quickly, usually due to an oversupply of milk). It’s a tricky issue that a lactation consultant can help you manage, but it will likely leave you with some funny memories—like your baby pulling off your breast when your milk lets down, and it sprays all over the room, or the wall, or (oops) the legs of the man sitting next to you on an airplane.

Your New Accessory: The Pump

Ah, The Pump. It comes in several makes and models, with endless choices of cute carrying cases. You can even buy a special bra for hands-free pumping, so you can pump and, say, cook dinner at the same time! And, nothing brings excitement into a partnership quite like the nightly pumping session, when you sit next to your loved one with a pump dangling from your chest, the loud, rhythmic whir of the motor drowning out the sound of the TV.

The Search for a Breast On Someone Else’s Chest

There might be a day when someone else, like your brother in-law, is holding your baby and she starts rooting around his chest for a breast. “Sorry, sweetie!” you might say, a little too loudly, as you scoop her up. “No milk there!”

Flashing: It Happens

Some women are comfortable nursing without a cover, and others are more modest. No judgment here. But if you’re on the modest end of the spectrum, there will inevitably be a time (or times) when you flash someone. It’s usually only embarrassing for a few seconds, unless it’s your father in-law. Just cover up and start talking about the weather.

It’s All Worth It at the End of the Day

You’re rocking and nursing your baby in the dark, while everyone else in the house sleeps. It’s quiet except for the noises of her sucking and swallowing. You notice the warmth of her body, the way she smells, and the tininess of her hand on your chest. There will be a moment (or many) like this, maybe on an early morning around 3 a.m. You’ll be wearing one of your forever milk-stained tops and you’ll be tired, but you’ll know that it’s all worth it at the end of the day.