Written by:

Dr Rachel Varughese

Rachel is a paediatrician in Oxford.

Overview of a Baby’s Gross Motor Function

In this article:

  • Introduction
  • 0-6 weeks
  • 6 weeks
  • 6 months
  • 7-8 months
  • 9 months
  • 10 months
  • 12 months
  • 18 months
  • 2 years
  • 2½ years
  • 3 years
  • 4 years
  • Main points

Overview of a Baby’s Gross Motor Function

Overview of a baby’s gross motor function


The first few years of a baby’s life are full of remarkable changes. In a few short years, these little people transform from dependent babies into mobile children who can vanish up the staircase in the blink of an eye.

Development skills are generally divided into gross motor, fine motor, speech/language and social, and although the expected ages of achieving certain abilities are noted by developmental ‘milestones’, these are primarily a guide. Babies are likely to achieve milestones at different ages and some children can be weeks or months behind their peers in certain areas. If you choose to seek medical advice about this, your doctor may well suggest that initially the best thing is to watch and wait.

Paediatricians have different thresholds for investigating delayed development, and, in all cases it’s important that babies are exposed to the right stimulation so that they are able to reach their full developmental potential.

This article will focus on gross motor skills. These are the activities that require the large muscles in the body, such as sitting, walking and jumping. Fine motor skills are covered in a separate article.

More information:

0-6 weeks

Finally – all those movements that you were feeling inside your womb all make sense. Your baby is a wriggly little person who loves to stretch their limbs and turn their head from side to side. They like to flex their arms and legs towards their tummy, as a reminder of the position they spent most of their time in while they were growing in the womb. At the start you may notice they don’t fully stretch their limbs straight, as they’re just getting used to being free, rather than scrunched in the womb. Over time, they start to track your face and turn towards you.

6 weeks

By now, your baby has developed better head control. You might notice they now stabilise their head by themselves when held upright, and they should be able to lift their head up to 45 degrees when laid on their tummy. You can help your baby exercise these muscles with short periods of ‘tummy time’ when lying in the play area.

6 months

Your baby is now learning to sit unsupported. By 6 months, they can usually do this with a rounded back, but they are usually quite unsteady and may tip easily from side to side, particularly when reaching out for an object. This is also the time when babies learn to roll from a lying position. Usually, they start by rolling from their front to their back, which can make encouraging tummy time that little bit trickier. At the beginning, the rolling is usually unintentional, and they may be startled and cry. Over time, they recognise their new skill and start to roll intentionally.

7-8 months

Unsupported sitting should now be getting more developed and your baby will start sitting up with a straighter back, although they are still at risk of falling to the side, or backwards. They may also start to pivot themselves around their body by putting their arms on the floor like a tripod. Rolling is much more skilled now, and will start to happen from back to tummy. Having previously complained about tummy time, your baby may now really enjoy it.

9 months

Crawling is starting. This can look different for different babies, and is a challenging new skill to learn. Some babies start crawling by suddenly and proficiently motoring around on their hands and knees. Many, however, will have a period of unsuccessful tries. First, they may push themselves backwards when trying to move forward. Some babies will actually never develop a mature crawl at all, and instead might find it easier to ‘commando crawl’, where they worm along on their elbows, tummy and knees, or ‘bottom shuffle’, where they scoot along on their bottoms. You can aid movement by providing lots of encouragement and putting favourite toys slightly out of reach.

The attention you will need to give to your baby will suddenly skyrocket now. You will have to keep a beady eye on them always to ensure they don’t suddenly disappear from view.

Your baby is also now very good at sitting and can usually do this and keep very steady, without falling sideways or backwards.

10 months

Now is the time when babies learn to pull to stand. This means they will grasp objects, such as furniture and toys, and use them to pull themselves to a standing position. This usually starts with a lot of tumbles, but after some practice, it begins to get a lot steadier. Once your baby has learned to stand steadily, they will be keen to explore the new world they have discovered and they will start ‘cruising’ around using furniture and anything they can grab onto in order to steady them.

12 months

After a couple of months of pulling to stand and cruising, your baby will have started to let go and stand unsupported. 12 months is around the age when they will start walking unaided. Don’t worry though, walking is a particularly variable skill. Some children will start walking at 9 months. Others will take up until 18 months to start walking. Both can be normal and you should not be concerned if other babies in your social circle start walking earlier than yours.

It is worth consulting a doctor when approaching 18 months if your child is not showing signs of walking, since after this age, the paediatrician will consider investigating for causes of delayed walking.

Congratulations – your baby has now officially graduated from baby to toddler

18 months

By 18 months, your child is likely to be a proficient walker and will be keeping you on your toes, as they start running and jumping.

2 years

By two years old your child is starting to walk upstairs, using two feet for each step. They are not yet able to walk downstairs but might slide down on their bottoms. They are getting good at throwing a ball from shoulder level.

2½ years

Football is now an option, because your child is starting to be able to kick a ball, although aim may be a bit of a problem at first. They can also balance on one foot for a short amount of time and are learning to hop.

3 years

Your little one is getting better at those stairs and can now go up using one foot per step. The way down is still a little tricky, so they use two feet per step at the moment.

4 years

By four years, your child has mastered the stairs and goes up and down, with one foot on each step, just like an adult. At 4 years old, most gross motor skill milestones are complete, just in time for them to go to school.

Main points

  • Your child may achieve developmental milestones at a different age to others.
  • The first four years of life is a period of intense development of gross motor skills.
  • Babies must be exposed to the right stimulation in order to achieve their full potential.
  • Babies will try to move from the moment they are born. Earliest movements will including stretching and turning their head.
  • By six months your baby may be able to sit unsupported.
  • Your baby may start crawling (or some other method of propelling themselves across the floor) at around 9 months old.
  • By 12 months your baby may be walking.
  • From one year to four years old your child will begin to develop more and more abilities, including climbing stairs, kicking a ball, hopping on one foot and much more.

Important – If you or your child are unwell you should seek medical advice from a professional – contact your GP or visit an A&E department in an emergency. While My BabyManual strives to provide dependable and trusted information on pregnancy and childcare 24/7 via our website pages, we cannot provide individual answers to specific healthcare questions.