How to help your baby roll over, sit, crawl and walk

Watching your baby and toddler master development milestones to help take those first steps is a joy. Here's how to help your little one on the way

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Most mums and dads spend hours watching their newborn’s every movement, from stretching and yawning to curling his little toes. And the fun continues as your baby grows, when he slowly learns to control those limbs and build up his strength to first roll over, then sit and perhaps crawl, before eventually taking his first wobbly steps.

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We wanted to find out about your baby’s movement milestones, so, along with our friends at LeapFrog, we ran a survey asking about your little one’s firsts.

The results made pretty interesting reading. Many mums (43 %) said their babies developed earlier than they’d expected when it came to activities like sitting and walking, while just 11 % felt that their little ones were late developers.

Rolling over

Learning to control his head is your baby’s first step towards learning to roll over. Sally Goddard Blythe, director of the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology in Chester, explains: “Motor development and postural development starts from the head down, and also from the centre out. So the most important thing your baby needs to learn to do is control his head because that’ll influence what happens to all the other muscle groups below.”

Once your baby’s mastered head control, he’ll usually roll from his tummy to his back. More than 60% of you said that your baby had his first roll over by 4 months, while 12 % of babies started rolling over before 3 months. Flipping from his back to his tummy might happen a few months later, as he builds neck and arm muscles with plenty of tummy time.

“Tummy time can be introduced from 4 or 5 weeks old, just for short bursts,” says Sally. “You’ll start to see your baby learning to hold his head up in line with his body, then gain enough head and neck control to get his head above the level of his body, using his hands and forearms to support the upper trunk. This is how he starts to develop head, neck and upper trunk control, which is good for his sitting posture later on.”

Sitting up

While your baby’s getting to grips with rolling, he’s likely to be learning how to sit up on his own, with over half of you (57 %) saying your baby was sitting at 5 to 6 months. Most babies are still a bit wobbly at this age, so pop him on a soft blanket on the floor and prop him up with plenty of pillows until his balance improves.

“In the first months, a blanket on the floor is the most important thing for your baby, as he can learn how to do things for himself, rather than being placed in a position and then not knowing how to get in and out of it,” says Sally.

Over the next couple of months, your baby will work out how to steady himself with his hands by leaning forward, and soon how to turn his body to reach for nearby toys. You might be tempted to help your little one reach things and change positions, but discovery is all part of learning.

Crawling

Once your baby’s got the hang of balancing while sitting, he might then discover that he can lean forward onto his hands and knees. He’ll probably rock back and forth for a while, before he works out how to push off with his knees and get mobile. In our survey, 8% of babies were crawling before 6 months, but more than 
a third (37 %) of you said your little one was on the move at 8 to 9 months.

Some babies skip crawling altogether and move straight on to pulling themselves up, standing and walking. “You can’t make a baby crawl who isn’t going to do it, but you can give him the positions and opportunities that encourage it,” explains Sally. “This means as little time spent in baby seats as possible and the most time spent letting him move and explore on both his tummy and back.”

Some mums are reluctant to put their baby on his tummy due to worries about cot death, but it’s fine as long as your baby isn’t sleeping in this position. “Tummy time is being done less and less these days because mums hear ‘never put your baby on his tummy’ rather than ‘don’t put your baby to sleep on his tummy’,” says Sally.

First steps

As your baby’s strength and coordination develops over his first year, he’ll move on to pulling himself up and standing while holding
on to the furniture. Once his balance and confidence grow he’ll be able to let go and stand by himself. He’ll love tottering along with you holding his hands, before eventually taking those tentative first steps without mum or dad’s help.

“It takes time to build confidence, so you 
need to give your child the opportunity,” says chartered psychologist Ruth Coppard from the British Psychological Society (bps.org.uk). 
“I’m very keen on baby walkers and you can tell the difference if a baby has used a walker. It gives him more freedom to explore his environment.”

A quarter of you said your little one took his or her first steps before 11 months, and 76 % said your tot had tried walking by 13 months. “Children do develop in different ways,” says Ruth. “You have some children who are more adept physically and more coordinated who’ll find things easier. Keep an eye on things but don’t fret if something takes your child a little longer.”

Mum’s story

“Ethan started to walk two weeks ago though his sister started earlier, at 11 ½ months. He was crawling, but refused to walk even when holding my hands. Then he took a couple of steps alone and was soon walking everywhere.”

Paula Fazekas, 26, from Luton, mum to Kayleigh, 3, and Ethan, 14 months.

“I felt pressured with Chelsy, but I’m more relaxed second time round with Chanel. She’s skipped crawling and gone straight to walking. She screams with excitement when she toddles over to her big sister.”

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Viv Obinna, 31, from London, mum to Chelsy, 2, and Chanel, 9 months.

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