An infant must learn motor skills to thrive and grow. These motor skills in infants include gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills involve being able to control large muscle groups such as the legs, arms and torso. Fine motor skills involve the ability to control small muscle groups, especially the hands and fingers. The most significant motor skills in infants include being able to lift his or her head, to roll over, to crawl and to grasp small objects.
A new baby is born with certain reflexes, but motor skills in infants must be learned. Over the first year of his or her life, an infant will learn various motor skills, both gross and fine. Learning new motor skills requires both increased muscle strength and cognitive functioning.
Newborns usually begin developing their gross motor skills first. A major milestone in terms of gross motor skills is when a baby learns to hold its head up. During the first year of its life, an infant will learn other gross motor skills such as how to roll over, how to sit up by himself or herself, how to crawl and how to walk.
Fine motor skills in infants are learned at a slower pace than gross motor skills because an infant must learn how to control the large muscles of the body before he or she can control the small muscle systems. Over the course of the first year, an infant will acquire the ability to grasp, pick up and throw objects. An important fine motor skill milestone is when an infant can pick up objects using his or her thumb and pointer finger. This is referred to as the pincer grasp, and it is important for learning other skills as the infant grows into a toddler.
Each infant develops at his or her own pace, and the development of motor skills in infants will vary from child to child. Doctors do have time frames of when normal motor skill development occurs. Parents are encouraged to be aware of when normal motor skill milestones usually happen. If an infant is not meeting motor skill milestones, his or her pediatrician should be notified, because this can be a sign of a developmental problem.