From the day a baby is created and born, movement is something innate-something that is constantly occurring. When our babies movements begin to develop in utero, they are gaining a sensory-motor experience we can’t see. But when they are born, we are privileged to watch their little world of movement open up, learning like a little athlete. Each of us has an athlete in us with varied abilities all our own. This is developed and nurtured through genetics and environment. The motor development is shaped by how your baby moves and receives input through it’s sense of touch, muscle and joint movements, tactile (skin) awareness and the input via vision and vestibular (inner ear). So how do we nurture our little athletes? When your baby is born, he or she has been curled up in your womb for several months now with less and less room. Your baby’s legs and arms will be flexed or curled up in the fetal position and will stay like that for several months after birth. These pictures are of infants days old curled up with arms and legs next to the body. Your baby may be able to extend or straighten legs slightly on his/her back but should not be able to complete this fully. The legs and arms slowly stretch out as movement is learned on the opposite side of the body and as gravity takes over.
Your baby’s legs may look like they are turned in or the lower leg is curved. This is normal and has to do with where muscles are positioned and how the bones are curved (torsion). As your baby learns to move, kick and put weight on his legs, the muscles will develop and pull on the bones and tendons as they grow. This will then change the growth of the bones. This occurs all the way up to early adulthood with the majority of it taking place in early childhood.
Your baby may be able to move his arms out slightly to the side usually at the same time (symmetrically) but will not be able to aim at anything specific. Fists remain closed most of the time. You may notice much of baby’s movement is based on reflexes in the newborn days. Many of these reflexes occur to help with the infant survival. The rooting reflex (turning the head to the side when mouth is stimulated) is to allow for baby to find a feeding source. The sucking reflex allows for baby get nourishment from day one. The Startle or Moro reflex (extending or throwing arms and legs out to the side with a loud noise or sudden movement) is to help baby grab on to caregiver and prevent falling. The grasp reflex (fingers tightening when you place something in the palm of baby) allows baby to hold on as well. Your baby may also support weight on his or her legs (depending on his overall weight and may perform stepping movements (moving feet like he or she is walking when held leaning slightly forward while feet are placed on a surface). These are a few of the main reflexes you will see in the early months. As your baby learns to actively move and the higher brain centers (cortex) take over, most of these reflexes will disappear as active movement takes over.
When placed lying down on back or stomach or when held upright, your baby may be able to lift his head actively for brief periods depending on if baby is pre-term or full-term. Baby may also turn his or her head toward your voice.
NEXT: Newborn to One month Activities.