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3-Month-Old Baby Physical Milestones

Jessica Woodbury
June 8, 2017

Your newborn didn't have many deliberate movements, but your 3-month old baby sure does! Find out what changes in this short stage.

When a newborn is placed in your arms, you realize just how small and vulnerable he is. His movements are jerky and unpredictable, and his facial expressions and sounds are hard to interpret. By the time your baby reaches 3 months old, he's achieved several development milestones.

You'll see your newborn start to turn into a responsive and active infant. At birth, many of your infant's movements are reflexes, but, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a 3-month-old baby will start to lose newborn reflexes and begin to refine more deliberate movements. By 3 months old, you'll see definite physical responses when your baby's on his tummy, on his back or using his hands.

And read  our guide to developmental milestones for kids

3-Month-Old Milestones

When placed on his tummy, a 3-month-old baby can generally lift his head off the floor and even prop himself up on his arms. Your pediatrician has probably recommended you give your baby some "tummy time" each day to help him with gross motor control of his neck, head and upper torso. Nancy Holtzman, a pediatric nurse and national speaker on maternal child health topics, helps educate new moms and says to expect some change each month. "During the first month, you'll see brief lifting of the head or bobbing like a woodpecker," she says. "Around two months, your baby can turn his head side to side when on his belly, and lift it for longer periods, and by three months he will likely be able to bring his head, neck and shoulders up off the blanket using bent arms."

When placed on his back, a 3-month-old baby will show signs of deliberate leg movement through kicks and thumps. Before he can sit, your infant spends a lot of time on his back and this will be one of his favorite activities in this position. Child development specialist, Jennifer Gillette, of The Loved Child says, "Initially these movements will appear erratic -- even out of control. After the first few weeks, these kicks and arm arches will appear more smooth and graceful."

Finally, hand movements become more specific and deliberate. At first, your baby's hands will usually be closed with fingers curled shut. At 3 months old, he'll start to reach for objects nearby. You'll be able to give your little one a toy to grasp, and you'll see his hands start to open and shut more regularly. You'll also see the beginning of your baby's favorite tool to explore: his mouth. By 3 months, your baby will begin to bring his hands to his mouth to lick, suck and nibble.

How to Help Your Baby's Physical Development

If your baby fusses through tummy time, try not to abandon the position. Instead, Holtzman recommends trying a propped position. "If your baby gets too frustrated laying flat, try rolling a blanket or towel into a firm log shape, then place baby in a kneeling position with his tummy right up against the bolster and his forearms resting on the top at chest level," she says. "This helps him use his arms to gain leverage and push up to raise his head." Don't forget to interact and engage with your child to help make tummy time more fun. Gillette advises parents to lay on their own stomachs facing the baby, "making eye contact and, if it's not over stimulating, gently talking or singing to encourage this important moment of tummy time."

When your infant is on his back, you likely won't need to get on the ground. Because babies tend to be comfortable in this position, you have lots of opportunities for engagement when they're in your lap, their tub or the stroller. To engage your baby's legs, move them in a bicycle motion or dangle a rattle near his feet for him to kick. Alternatively, try putting a toy that jingles or crinkles under his feet or legs. At first, your baby may not understand the connection between the movement and the sound, but he'll start to learn the cause-and-effect as he grows.

To help with his hand movements, give your little one rattles and toys to grasp and hold. Offer your baby your finger so you can feel the change from reflexive to deliberate grasping movement. Now that he can grab objects, your baby will love putting toys in his mouth -- don't necessarily discourage this, but watch him closely and make sure the toys are clean and without any small or loose parts.

Watching all the change happening in your baby is exciting, and you'll enjoy encouraging him as he gets stronger every day.

For more, check out this Overview of 3-Month-Old Milestones

Jessica Woodbury is a mother of two who has written on pregnancy, parenting and special needs.

* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.

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