Exercise for Babies 0-12 Months

“Good” play each month will move a baby along the road of milestones to be able to:

– Develop head, neck, and body control against gravity
– Develop stability when on belly to be able to roll over and belly crawl
– Develop play skills with fine motor dexterity by 6 months
– Give the child the “I Can Do It” attitude necessary for all independent activities

One Month Play

First turn TV and technology off to be able to have a quiet setting to play with the baby.

From 2 weeks on, play in all four positions: on back, tummy, and each side. Place the baby on his side and move a toy so he needs to tuck his chin to watch the toy. This should be done for both the Right and Left sides.

Use noisy toys held over the nose until baby focuses. Then move the toy so eyes follow.

Month Two

At 2.5 months, if the baby can turn both directions and has a chin tuck, the parent can begin to help the baby try to pull forward into a sit position by holding the baby’s arms.

It is easier to do a Pull-to-Sit when the baby is inclined with his upper back on a pillow

One more great exercise is hanging a soft toy just above the baby’s nose. He should try to reach up for the toy. We therapists want babies to be able to reach up for a toy within 5 seconds after focusing on the toy.

  • Babies need to have good head control by 2 months of age.
  • Babies need to be comfortable on the belly by 2 months of age


It is great when a baby is gaining appropriate milestones on time but other wonderful benefits happen as well.

  • A baby that plays during the day in all 4 positions, sleeps through the night more quickly.
  • A baby who spends time on the belly several times a day, will often avoid being constipated or having reflux.
  • A baby who becomes comfortable on the belly and learns to find his own hands, learns to comfort themselves. Finding the hands can make a baby smile. IT IS ALL GOOD

Key Goals for Babies to Accomplish From  3-12 Months

  1. These milestone achievements  were designed by God in the beginning. He hasn’t changed the plan of baby development, people have.
  2. Babies that are comfortable on the belly at 2 months will probably belly crawl by 7 months.
  3. Belly crawl is good for lots of things; but one of the best is developing near sighted vision that is needed for reading.
  4. Babies that belly crawl for awhile will usually move to creeping on all fours by 9 months. Creeping is good for lots of things, but one of the best is developing the focal length acuity for reading and writing.
  5. Walking at nine months is not necessarily a good thing. There are lots of great things that happen on the tummy and in all fours. Walking really takes less head control and core strength than creeping. Some babies walk early to avoid doing the important “work” that takes place on the hands and knees. If a baby has strong belly and back muscles, head control, balance reactions, and open hands when weight bearing, by all means, encourage walking. Otherwise, get down on the floor once a day and play “Kitty Kat” with your 9 month old baby.        Or make a sofa cushion cubby house with a blanket roof to encourage crawling in, under, through, over, around, and on top of the cushions.
  6. This is as important as #5. Encourage your baby to learn to transition to sit by herself. That should happen around 7 months if your baby has done #s 1-3. Important coordination and balance reactions develop with the effort to push into a sit position. It is work but good baby work to figure out how to get to a sitting position. Babies who are always plopped or held miss that opportunity. Boppees should be placed to protect for a hard fall, NOT to prevent a baby from being off balance. Falling from sit to side-lie like a roly-poly is a good lesson.

Certainly all babies will vary in their milestone acquisition times. The important thing is that they go through the order of the milestones so they don’t get to 12-months missing balance reactions, eye tracking, fine motor skills, and self assurance. Lack of those things will impact preschool readiness.

If you have questions about how your baby is doing anytime during the first year, seek out a pediatric physical therapist or pediatric occupational therapist for suggestions. Certainly get expert OT or PT advice if your baby has a flat spot on the back of the skull or always has the head turned to one side. That may appear as early as 4 weeks and is most easily corrected then.

Month Three

Three-month-old babies should be playing with their body’s ability to move from head to feet.  They will start rolling independently to the side and back.  When placed on the belly, they will push up to bear weight on the elbows. When on the belly, they should be interacting with toys. Babies should have a good chin tuck by three months.

Month Four

Big achievement will be reaching to knees and eventually to feet.  Pulling the knees up to reach feet is a great belly exercise!  On the belly, babies will do “Swimmies”.  Everything will be off the ground but the belly.  It is a great exercise for balance and back strength.

Month Five

Pushing with feet to scoot forward to get a toy is usual.  A good play activity is to stack two blocks in pillars around the baby when on the tummy.  He will reach and knock over the “tower”, then learn to pivot to knock over the next one.  Pivoting should be learned so that he can go either to his right or his left. This is a fun game for a parent to play with the baby.

Month Six

All of the body skills that develop from work on head control and comfort of tummy will allow a baby to roll over around 6 months. A good way to roll is to bring knees to belly and then flop to the side. Learning to pull the arm free takes some work, but they will learn to do it.  Then parents need to get ready because the baby will take off like a little alligator all over the house.  Make sure stairs are gaited and all small objects are off the floor.

Month Seven

Lots happens at seven months. Babies can push to sit from lying on the back.  Balance in sit improves so propping is not needed on the hands.  Playing with toys starts with two hand exploration. Babies love to transition into all positions.  Some babies begin to pull up in the crib but can’t figure out how to sit back down. They will need help so that they don’t fall backward and hit their head.  This is why the chin tuck was so important at two months.  When standing, if a baby tucks the chin and looks down, the knees will bend and baby will gently fall back onto their bottom.

Month Eight-Nine

Lots more exploration with all kinds of toys. Great interest in all sensory things: rough/smooth, hot/cold, big/little, soft/hard, noisy/musical.  They will continue to stand by pulling up on furniture.

Nine months is a time for the big milestone of assuming the all-fours position.  It is very important for a baby to rock back and forth when on hands and knees.  It is a brain integrating activity that will help reading later.  After a few days of rocking, a baby will move forward.  It is difficult to balance sufficiently to advance one hand and then one knee.

Month Ten-Eleven-Twelve

Refinement and control of activities till 9 month to transition to standing, cruising around furniture, and walking.  See the pictorial of the milestones.

Pictorial Milestone Chart for Baby Development
(Milestone-Pictorial.pdf; 111KB)

  • Judy Jennings

    Judy Towne Jennings, PT, MA has expertise in child development for children of all ages.

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