bond with baby

Develop & Learn

Physical Development

baby with BlocksDuring the early months and into the first year of development it is important for parents to keep check of their baby's growth according to the weight-length charts that are available at infant health services. Other important information to gauge babies' physical development are milestones according to their visual, hearing, taste, smell and touch senses, and their gross motor (large body movements controlled by large muscles) and fine motor (small body movement controlled by small muscles) development.

Baby's gross motor development involves strength building in her posture, head balance, arms and legs to enable her to roll over, sit, crawl, walk, climb and eventually will further develop to being able to run, hop, jump and so on. Baby's fine motor development is to do with the use and manipulation of her hands and fingers.  Through your encouragement and providing an environment that stimulates Baby's want to explore her surroundings, she will develop strength - achieving at her own pace - enabling her to become physically active.

Below is a general guide to babies’ sensory, fine and gross motor milestones during the first year. If you are in any way concerned about your baby's development you need to consult a paediatric health professional.

Baby’s Age Physical Developmental Milestones
Sensory Gross Motor Fine Motor
Birth to 4 weeks

Vision: Focus on distant and close objects but not accurately.

Will track/follow large slow moving object with jerky head movement if no other distraction is in sight.

Sees most features of a face from about arms length.

Attracted to high contrast colours e.g. black and white designs.

Hearing: Newborns are highly receptive to sound/s and the direction it is coming from.

Startled by sudden noise.

Very sensitive to loud volume which can damage hearing.

Prefers to listen to sensitive tone of adults voice (Infant-Directed Speech discussed in  Bonding with Baby) and distinguishes mother’s voice to that of others. Mother's singing voice is preferred to that of other females.

Babies have a ‘sound memory’ for music that they heard in utero e.g. mother playing a favourite piece of music for daily relaxation.

Smell: Can distinguish odours and reacts sensitively (both positively and negatively). Prefers sweet smells.

Senses the smell of mother and breastmilk.

Touch: Newborn can feel differences in textures – rough, smooth etc.

Are soothed by the gentle use of parents’ touch.

Feels the difference between cold and warm.

Taste: Newborns can distinguish between sweet, salty and bitter.

No head control/strength for support.

When lying on her back (supine position) head is turned on the side.

If placed in a sitting position (using your support) her back is rounded with head lagging forward.

Arms and legs have brisk reflex movements when Baby is startled.

Note: Tummy time for Baby needs to begin to strengthen neck, shoulders, arms and back muscles. It also alleviates pressure on the skull that can be caused from Baby lying on her back with the head in the same position for long periods (which can cause a flattened shape on the head know as ‘positional plagiocephaly’). No baby likes tummy time to begin, as they feel insecure while strength is developing. Begin with short ‘burst’ (e.g. 30 secs). You need to get right down at face level encouraging her effort during these early weeks. A rolled towel can be placed under her armpits for support.

Never leave Baby alone while on her tummy during these early weeks.

Another type of tummy time for Baby during the early weeks is when you are relaxing together, place her on your chest for close face-to-face contact and chat/sing.

Other ways to strengthen Baby’s neck/spine is to vary the way you carry her e.g. at your shoulder height so she looks over, and also over your arm as she faces down - with her cheek resting on your arm.

Hands are tightly closed.

4-8 weeks

Vision: Focus is developing accuracy and tracking objects is becoming more precise. Able to make distinction of facial features e.g. nose & mouth as she gazes attentively at parent’s face.

Beginning awareness of colours, particularly red and yellow. Cannot distinguish faint colours.

Hearing: Can distinguish different emotions in peoples’ tone of voice e.g. happy & sad.

When lying on her back (supine) Baby’s head is beginning to stabilise in centre position (e.g. when gazing into your face). Head is held up intermittently when in a supported sitting position.

Starting to purposefully extend arms/reaching out and legs/kicking.

When lying on tummy (prone position) head is beginning to lift for a moment as tummy time is increasing.
Baby on Tummy

Starting to open fist to grasp your finger.

Bringing her fist to mouth.

From 8 weeks and into 3rd month

Vision: Will follow slow moving object with smooth head movement. Beginning to see shades of grey colour in large patterns. Starting to focus on smaller objects. Watches her hands as they move toward the face.

Hearing: Shows excitement when hearing familiar sounds e.g. bottle being prepared, and voices.

Neck/back strength developing.

Lying on her back (supine) head is now central.

Almost no head lag when supported in sitting position.

Starting to turn hear toward a sound e.g. a rattle.

Legs are kicking.

When on tummy (prone) head is being lifted and arms starting to support as Baby looks around. (Keep encouraging her). Possible attempts at rolling from back to tummy into the 3rd month (Always be aware of safety).

Is developing palmer grip (whole hand grasp) and may be starting to co-ordinate 2 hands for grasping. Joins hands and takes them to mouth.

From 4 months and into the 5th month

Vision: Can follow small object (e.g. finger puppet and possibly something as small as a grape) vertically, horizontally, and circularly. Looking at objects they hold in their hands. Recognises familiar objects and people.

Hearing: Shows preference for listening to harmonious music compared to harsh, non-melodic music.

When listening to Mum/Dad singing, Baby will join in ‘singing’.

Head is well controlled. May turn in direction of a familiar voice e.g. Mum/Dad.

Beginning to sit with support and rolling over.

When on tummy, strong support of arms and can reach for toys on floor.

Some babies begin to show signs of wanting to crawl/pull themselves around a floor on tummy.

May bear weight on legs when held in a standing position.

Transfers objects from hand to hand.

Reaching out to grab.

May bang/shake objects.


From 6 months to 9 months

Vision: Can distinguish familiar people approx. 2 metres away

Further developing awareness of objects near and far.

Can watch falling objects

Taste: Showing ‘likes and dislikes’ for the taste of food

Beginning to sit unsupported.

Baby is becoming very mobile – rolling, crawling, pulling self up using furniture – and may be starting to ‘cruise’/toddle around furniture holding on for support.

Some babies may begin to stand unsupported and may even take some steps in the latter part of this period.

Can respond to the rhythm of music by bopping/bobbing up and down when standing supported.

Beginning to use pincer grip (thumb & index finger) to grasp small objects. Hand-clapping developing.

Becoming very competent with use of both hands. Understands ‘up’ and ‘down’ and gesturing using hands/arms.

From 9 months to 12 months

Vision: Visually very alert to new environments and people.

Can see small objects (2-3mm) nearby. Can change focus quickly, has depth perception, discriminate simple geometric shapes (circle, triangle, square).

Baby should now be sitting confidently and crawling.

May start to take steps unsupported and walk with support (using trolley like toys to stand at and push along).

Some babies can progress to a tottering pace by the end of the first year.

Climbing onto furniture and crawling up stairs! Watch out – here comes Baby!

Pincer grip well developed. Can poke at objects and point with one finger.

Can throw objects. Manages spoon and finger food well. Can put objects/toys into containers.

Imitates actions e.g. waves bye-bye.