How Movement Develops

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How Movement Develops

From the moment your baby is born, they are stimulated to move. Initially these movements are reflexes, triggered in response to physical stimuli. As your baby’s nervous system matures, they will gain increasing control over the muscles of their body. This occurs as the nerve fibres of your baby's nervous system become insulated with a fatty coating called Myelin.

Myelinised neurons pass electrical signals quickly from one neuron to the next or to a muscle. Myelinisation starts in the brain stem and travels down the spine and out along the limbs. The more your baby uses specific neurons, the faster they become myelinised. Having lots of opportunity to move, helps your baby develop their ability to control the movements of their body.


Early Reflexes

Amongst these early reflexes are your new baby’s sucking and rooting reflexes which enable them to breastfeed. This reflex is triggered by gently brushing their cheek. Your baby will also have a grasp reflex. This reflex is triggered if something is placed in your baby's palm. It is such a wonder, to offer your finger into your baby's palm and have them hold your hand!



As your baby’s nervous system matures, they will gain increasing control over their neck, arms and hands. This occurs due to a process called Myelination. Myelination involves the gradual insulation of the nerve fibres of your baby’s nervous system. Insulated nerve fibres are better able to pass signals between the brain and the body’s muscles. This gradual insulation process starts in the base of your baby's brain. It moves slowly down your baby’s spine and out along their arms and legs. As each part of your baby’s nervous system becomes myelinised, they will gain voluntary control of the muscle groups in that part of their body.


Stages of Movement Development

Table 1. below describes the sorts of movement you can expect in your baby with each passing stage. It also describes the reflexes which will still be present and the point at which Myelination has reached. The sequence of your baby's movement acquisitions is more important than the age at which they acquire the new movement possibility.



Body Movements (Gross Motor)

Hand Movements (Fine Motor)



  • Supine (lying on back)
  • Tummy time
  • Sucking and Rooting Reflex              
  • Prehensile Grasping Reflex
  • Stepping Reflex
  • Babinksi Reflex
  • Bapkin Reflex
  • Morro / Startle Reflex
  • Fencers Reflex
  • Mouth
Birth to 2 Months   
  • Supine (lying on back)
  • Lifts head from floor during tummy time 
  • Grasping Reflex becoming less intense with time
  • Startle Reflex becoming less intense
  • Neck
  • Shoulders
2 to 4 Months
  • Slithering
  • Rolling from tummy to back
  • Arching the back
  • Reaching for objects
  • Intentional palm grasp
  • Fencers Reflex becoming less intense
  • Optical nerves (binocular vision)
  • Shoulders
  • Moving out into the arms                
4 to 6 Months
  • Inch worming
  • Rolling from back to tummy
  • Scooting
  • Sitting with support (short periods)
  • Palm grasp refines to 4 fingers opposing the thumb
  • Bringing hand to mouth
  • Gag Reflex
  • Down into the trunk
  • Into fingers
6 to 8 months
  • Sitting unaided
  • Commando crawling
  • Flexes wrist
  • Refining grasp - fewer fingers in opposition to thumb
  • Refining eye-to-hand co-ordination
  • Righting reflex whilst sitting
  • Moving down the legs into the feet
  • Everything becoming more refined
8 to 10 months
  • Crawling, rolling
  • Pulling up to stand
  • Climbing stairs
  • Primitive pincer grasp with flat fingers opposing thumb
  • Putting things inside things
  • Hand used in large body movements
  • Hand to hand transfer
  • Righting reflex
  • Refining into feet
  • Into toes (if standing)
10 to 12 months  
  • Cruising then walking independently
  • Walking on tip-toes
  • Squatting with support
  • Releasing objects intentionally
  • New gross motor movements change the visual perspective - aiding eye-to-hand co-ordination and depth perception
  • Righting reflex until walking with arms by sides
  • Refining through fingers
12 to 18 months
  • Refining walking skills
  • Squatting
  • Continued refinement of pincer grasp
18 to 36 months
  • Refinement of all of the above
  • Further refinement into fingers and toes

Table 1. Movement Acquisition - Ages and Stages








The involuntary, survival based movements that babies are born with.







The gradual insulation of nerve cell fibres, allowing information to travel quickly between neurons.