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Physical Development in Infancy

By Carissa Lawrence ; Updated June 13, 2017

Though each person's development is unique, growth and change are an undeniable part of the human condition, according to Virginia State University Assistant Professor and Extension Child Development Specialist Novella J. Ruffin, Ph.D., in the “Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension” article “Understanding Growth and Development Patterns of Infants.” During your child's first year of life, expect to be amazed over and over again as she develops physically and reaches various developmental milestones.

Typical Pattern of Development

As with cognitive, social and emotion growth, physical development happens in a general sequence. Though there is a predictable pattern of physical development, keep in mind that every child develops at her own rate, and that your kids will reach certain milestones at different ages. Some children even skip over certain steps in physical development, such as going straight to walking, as opposed to crawling, then walking. Typically, your child's physical development should progress from the center of the body outward and from top to bottom, says Angela Oswalt, MSW in the “Seven Counties Services” article “Infancy Physical Development: Gross Motor Skills.”

Developing Gross Motor Skills

Gross or large motor skills develop first, as your baby starts to explore the space around him and attempts to gain control of his body parts. During his first year, your child should master a number of gross motor skills. Between one and two months, he'll start raising and holding up his head. Around four months, your baby may start rolling from back to side. Between seven and nine months, your child may be able to sit up without assistance, crawl and pull himself up to standing. Last will come walking, which normally begins at around 11 or 12 months, or even 1 or 2 months later.

Developing Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills require use of smaller muscles in the fingers and hands. During her first few months, your infant's hand movements are mostly reflexes, says Ruffin. Between three and six months, your baby will typically begin to touch, reach for, grasp and move objects up to her mouth. Around 9 months, your baby may start to pick items up by gripping them between her thumb and index finger. At 11 months, your child should be able to transfer medium objects into a container, while she may start stacking around 12 months.

Promoting Physical Development

Physical development doesn't happen instinctively, according to Oswalt. Therefore, it's important to give your child numerous opportunities to practice both fine and gross motor skills. By simply being conscious of your child's actions and interests and following her lead, you can encourage and promote healthy physical development with minimal effort. For example, placing an object just out of your baby's reach while she's on her stomach instead of putting it right in front of her or playing music that she responds to by kicking her legs or rocking back and forth gives your child a chance to practice reaching, which builds muscle strength.

When to Consult Your Pediatrician

While it's true that all infants develop at different rates, there are certain milestones of physical development that your child should definitely reach by the time he turns one. It may be that your child is on the right path and just needs a little more motor practice, or there could be a possibility that he has a developmental delay. If by age one your child isn't able to use the pincer grasp to pick up objects, doesn't crawl or can't stand up when supported, or doesn't use his hands to gesture or point to things, it's a good idea talk to his doctor about further evaluation and early intervention if necessary.

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