What is “baby-led motor development”

You may not know that typically progressing babies will find their milestones on their own. It’s an incredible process to witness! But it’s very different from the norm.

Here are some of the benefits:

  • You’ll provide a foundation of immense self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Joy at a high level unique to a baby-led style (for your baby and you!)
  • Confirmation that Baby’s body and brain are truly ready once she does it on her own
  • Supports your child’s ability to self-regulate

It’s also preventative. This approach reduces common problems we see with crawling improperly, skipping milestones,  reflex integration,   compensations (habits that develop when the body isn’t ready to accomplish something yet), and many other related repercussions.

The issues at stake

Optimal development occurs when babies find their milestone positions–sitting, standing, and walking–on their own, without being taught.

This is critical, and is a bigger deal than you might think! I don’t mean to instill guilt or fear. This is the honest information you need; it’s what parents tell me later that they “wish they had known.”

A baby-led vs parent-led approach influences:

  • Learning skills, relationship skills, and inter-dependence: “I can do this myself” vs “I need you to do this for me.”
  • Communicating to your child that you accept him where he is and you don’t need him to push beyond his current abilities for anyone else’s sake
  • Sensory integration (how your baby’s brain learns to handle stimulation and make sense of his environment)
  • The potential for crawling on hands and knees. Babies’ bodies and brains require this criss-crossing motion for optimal development across all areas. Scooting on the bottom and crawling with one knee + one foot are signals that support is needed.
  • Reading skills
  • Safety (read more about how Baby’s brain “measures”)

Pic Jennifer Lehr

Notice the difference in this baby’s arms and legs, eye gazse, mouth, and overall sense of tension and free movement when in an upright propping device vs a flat space. 

How to get started

? Make an ever-present floor time space, and make this your favorite go-to, rather than a device. Make it big enough for at least one grown up too so you can enjoy each other’s company!

? Be on Baby’s level: It’s natural to want to bring Baby up higher to our level. Think also of taking yourself down to his! This way, tummy/floor time becomes about relationship, rather than a chore. And if you join in by doing the same movements your baby is doing, I guarantee you’ll get a workout (not kidding!). 

? Lie Baby on all “sides”: back, front, right side, and left side. We’re 3-dimensional moving people. The ability to be comfortable on all sides is more important than tummy time singled out, and is a helpful doorway to finding each milestone naturally.

? Allow your baby to find her milestone positions on her own, without being taught (sitting, standing, walking). This means reducing–avoiding if you can–propping upright in devices or holding upright by hand. If your baby needs to eat or burp for a short time, don’t stress!

? Around 4-5 months or once you’re confident your baby won’t bang his head when rolling, explore different floor types. You may find that his movement explodes on a slippy floor, vs carpet! This is often when babies find belly crawling!

If you have a more complex situation, such as reflux or a flat spot on the  head (plagiocephaly), follow these tips as best you can or reach out.

If you’ve already propped your baby upright, don’t stress! Start by reducing the amount of time your baby spends upright.

Here’s more about what to expect when raising a baby this way.

When to reach out

Many babies benefit from extra support and respectful facilitation. It’s the automatic reflexes that lead to intentional movement, and sometimes reflexes get a little stuck.

Facilitation doesn’t mean getting babies into position and doing a movement for them. It means helping them access the movements their brains are already trying to accomplish so that they can figure out the new milestones by themselves.

Reach out if your baby is skipping milestones, prefers to be held up in standing, does not enjoy tummy time, seems tense all the time, arches a lot, seems to give up, only uses one side, or doesn’t want to cuddle.

Pay attention to  your gut feelings, even if others (even professionals!) tell you not to worry, and feel free to reach out to me. I work with families all the time on these things–it’s not uncommon, and it doesn’t mean you’re failing!

Which is which?

For more info about exactly what’s considered ‘baby led’ and what’s not, I listed some scenarios here >