What Does Unassisted Natural Development Look Like?

When babies are free to explore and develop unassisted at their own pace they perform beautiful dance from laying on their back to walking. For some babies, this process happens fast and is completed by 9 months! For most, it will take around a year and for some it will take longer. For parents, it is a joy to watch our children discover their capabilities and it is important to be patient and let this happen at your baby’s unique pace. As stated by Janet Lansbury in this post: Infant Development Experts Magda Gerber and Emmi Pikler “both had keen interest in the physiology of motor development that was not restricted, aided or taught. Through many years of research, observation and experience, Pikler concluded that when infant development is allowed to occur naturally, without interference, there are not only physical benefits such as grace and ease of movement, but psychological and cognitive benefits as well…”

“The learning process will play a major role in the whole later life of the human being. Through this kind of development, the infant learns his ability to do something independently, through patient and persistent effort. While learning during motor development to turn on his belly, to roll, to creep, sit, stand, and walk, he is not only learning those movements, but also *how to learn*. He learns to do something on his own, to be interested, to try out, to experiment. He learns to overcome difficulties. He comes to know the joy and satisfaction that is derived from his success, the result of his patience and persistence.”Dr. Emmi Pikler

The Dance (As seen from a mother’s eyes watching her son)

Here he is brand new laying on his back, limbs moving as if underwater, freely and rhythmically while his eyes focus on the magic of the new world that I can no longer comprehend through my adult eyes. I enjoy watching this; watching him discover that he is here now and his body and world are his own. Eventually he finds his hands in excitement and confusion, his eyes focus on his fingers as his brow furrows at this spectacle. “Is this attached to me?” He lays and watches as he discovers that he has control over this hand, his own hand! Next are his feet, he sees them and then he grabs them with his hands! Like magic, he can make these things happen! He grabs them and begins to roll onto his side on accident. This is frustrating for him and alarming, his whole world view has just moved, he cries until he is on his back again where he feels safe. But this new thing that was scary has become fascinating and he begins to rock back and forth eventually lands on his belly! What a change! He sits in amazement and shock at this new perspective and slowly gets his arms out from under him.

He can now lay on his belly and push up onto his arms where he can move his head around to look at this new world. When he pushes hard enough, he rocks onto his knees, which is very exciting. He squeals in happiness as he rocks back and forth! Now he can see what is around him and what he wants. A toy sits a foot away and he grabs for it, but it’s too far and he cries. Fighting through frustration, he learns that he CAN prevail and eventually scoots on his tummy to the toy. Fantastic, more squeals of delight! He has discovered how to push himself onto his arms and flop himself forward on his belly. First he forms a circle of movement and then suddenly he is in the kitchen, 10 feet from where he began!

Later, he is on his hands and knees rocking and he reaches for a toy with his hand, only his knee follows suit! He discovers that when his knees follow his hands, he can move faster, and he is all about faster! First he tries moving his parallel hands and feet, then discovers that alternating is far more efficient. Now here he is, crawling about my house, going in places I never expected, like behind the toilet and under the bed. Oh how he laughs with me when I find him in these places. Next he learns how to sit, and oh how pretty he is. With one hand down and one on his hip he just looks so fancy. And oh what a place to be, where he can balance on his own and play!

Soon he discovers that if he grabs onto furniture that is taller than him he can become taller himself by standing! But he gets stuck here and cries and falls. Up and down he stands and falls and cries until eventually he learns on his own how to put his hand on the floor first or fall on his bottom, much to his delight. He now scoots all around the tables and chairs. One day, he grabs an object on the table and lets go to hold the object, what a surprise as he falls, but now he has learned how to trust his movement so immediately tries and tries to stand on his own over and over until standing becomes his own. He pulls himself up, lets go and looks at me with excited eyes that seem to say: “look what I am doing Mommy! All on my own!” “Yes, you are standing all on your own,” I say back to him.Now to go and get to the dogs, he falls down to crawl so fast to them, bear crawling now because it is faster. What? The feet move? He stands and instead of crawling after something, he takes one step, then two, then three! He practices, walking towards me with his eyes full of joy and excitement.

Watching him walk to me with those eyes and that smile, knowing that I let him do all of this on his own; I gave him his space and his walking belongs entirely to himself.  That thought fills me with complete joy and pride. He still walks towards me, all wobbly and full of joy, but soon he will walk away from me, out to explore the world on his own with complete trust in his body and his world.

Over the course of a year or so all babies will make this progression, if left to do so on their own. When we put them in positions that they cannot get into themselves, it will interfere with their natural progression and cause frustration. Now it is said that a lot of babies skip crawling, I believe that this has to do with the rise of sitting babies up in unnecessary infant seats and the feeling that we must rush our babies into the next developmental milestone. As Ruth Ann Hammond states: “The inner drive to be upright is hard to turn off once it has been turned on, but when babies are allowed to “hang out” on their backs until they can do otherwise without help, eventually they can do so many things through their own initiative that they love being on the floor to play.”  When it comes to development, faster is not always better. Some children develop their movement fast all on their own and some wish to take their time. Patience is the key.

“I believe in giving your baby a safe space in which to play and letting her move freely and develop on her own without assisting her. Refrain from propping her up to sit or helping her roll over. She has an innate desire to move through these developmental sequences and has inborn knowledge of how to do it in a way that is “right” for her. She does this at her own pace and she gets pleasure from doing it.” –Magda Gerber

Natural Progression of Infant Development: Adapted from AAP and Baby 411

This is a chart I made that covers the natural progression of movement from laying on their backs to walking. Notice that I have left out tummy time and sitting baby up as some believe these are unnecessary.

Rolls onto tummy                                                             3 – 8 mo.

Scoots around on tummy                                               4 – 8 mo.

Crawls                                                                                  5 – 12 mo.

Gets to sitting without help                                           6 – 12 mo.

Pulls self-up to standing                                                 6 – 12 mo.

Stands alone briefly                                                         7 – 13 mo.

Cruises  around on furniture                                         7 – 14 mo.

Stands alone                                                                       9 – 15 mo.

Walks alone                                                                        9 – 16 mo.

Here is a great article by Emmi Pikler about the Natural Development of Movement that I highly suggest you read.

You can also look into Amazing Babies by Beverly Stokes and Your Self-Confidant Baby by Magda Gerber for more information on Natural and Unassisted Development during the first year. Please share your thoughts and stories on this topic as I would love to hear your thoughts.

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13 thoughts on “What Does Unassisted Natural Development Look Like?

    • Ooh! Thank you for this information, it is very useful. I think I will add a link to it on my blog post. Also, I appreciate that you pointed out that typo, I shall fix that right away. :)

  1. I feel that our reliance on capsules, in a particular portable car seat capsules and the ’back to sleep’ campaign has placed babies in a compromising ability to freely explore as mentioned above.

    I call it the ’baby in bucket’ syndrome. Babies find themselves in a position just as demobilising as a turtle on it\’s back.

    Brain development and motor development is only fully realised when babies spend lots of time down on the floor on their tummy with a loving adult for company and when they receive lots and lots of tactile touch (both of which are hard to do if restrained on their back in bucket or bouncer for a lot of the time.)

    I believe encouraging a campaign based on ’back to sleep and tummy to play’ would be most beneficial.

    Especially when they are between 4 -6 months. It’s paramount they find their natural push/pull pattern which then leads to the ’commando’ crawl. This is called the homolateral pattern and the baby (best without socks on a hard natural floor) slithers like a lizard.

    The belly crawl/slither is like a ’double click’ on the brain: it balances the development on both sides of the body, spine, brain & musculature.

    It stimulates horizontal eye tracking, helps with head to tailbone alignment, strengthens the arches of the feet, stabilises the hip sockets and amongst other benefits it\’s the basis for development of empathy and compassion.

    I find this crawling pattern is too often missed – often leading to learning difficulties later on and often they then miss out on crawling on hands and knees which is the cross lateral pattern and aids co-ordination.

    I personally believe that a little intervention is required to make sure babies spend time on their tummy and master the belly crawl before crawling. Parents need to spend time on the floor with their babies, playing and singing with their baby down on babies level, I suggest bringing their computer or work with them (much better for parents spine as well) they need to also remove socks and bunny rugs and if not on a hard floor put babies in light clothes so that they can scoot and move freely and don\’t get stuck on their tummy.

    • I also believe that babies need time on their tummy as movement from this place is important, though I would urge to let them get to their tummy on their own. The only appreciate being on their back for the first few months and there is so much good core work and exploration to be done there before the abandon the back time for tummy time. If babies start with time on their back, they will make their way onto their tummy on their own time where it will be fun for them and they will not need parental involvement as much. I do agree that it is good to get down on their level to play and spend quality time with your baby, but perhaps leave your work and spend 100% quality time before you go back to work. :)
      Thank you for your comment, I do appreciate the point of view.

  2. Hello, thank you for touching on this subject- I am a mama to 4 girls my eldest is 13 – my youngest is 15 months old- I can not believe how crazy folks are about my baby not walking yet- boy does competition start early and from people that do not know ! I have advocated deeply that everyone not sit the baby up, stand the baby up, or walk the baby- it has caused a bit of stress for me within my household as everyone wants her to preform and want her to repeat silly word like eyes…….I want my daughter to grow strong against these pressure it really is getting under my skin help….

    • Hi Sienna,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m sorry that you are having this frustration. For starters, this is a good exercise to work on being strong! I know I get very shy when advocating for my son’s growth. Ask your family to respect your views, they may be different than theirs and that is okay. I think sometimes grandmothers and older family members feel that they know best OR simply feel that when you say no to how they raised children, that you do not value them. Secondly, talk to your daughter about this too. Tell her that you are so sorry for the way she is treated by her family and that you love her and you are doing your best to protect her. Finally, relax because in the end she will be influenced by you! Her primary care-giver will be the one that she ultimately learns from. Remind yourself that you are doing a great job and in time, hopefully your family will respect that. Good luck and let me know how it goes. :)

  3. Pingback: My Son’s Middle Name is Danger!: Allowing Risky Behavior for Little Ones. « Learning Motherhood

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  5. I have two sons. The older one did the commando crawl before learning to crawl while the younger one didn’t. Both were left to do thier own thing at thier own pace. Maybe it just differs from child to child. Much to my family’s insistance I refused to put my child in the walker. Used those push carts one for a while when my baby began to enjoy it

  6. Also could u please tell me how and when to say no to my two year old. How to deal with temper tantrums he often cries unconsolably or lies on the floor in protest. My younger baby is nine months he hits him too, when he sees him crawling he sometiemes randomly goes and pushes him. I dont hit, scream less but I give in to threatening like I will not take him to places or hit. Which I fel is wrong

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