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Q&A with Dr. Sara Connolly: Your baby’s reflexes and coordination at 6 weeks old

Bundoo Expert

Dr. Sara Connolly
Bundoo Pediatrician

Sara Connolly, MD, FAAP, is a Board Certified Pediatrician who practices in Palm Beach County, Florida.

Do you know what your baby sees and feels by 6 weeks old? What can you, as a parent, do to help them build up their development? Dr. Sara Connolly goes over expectations and milestones when it comes to your newborn.

Bundoo: When babies are born, they can only see a few inches in front of their faces and have little control over their movement. By six weeks, what do you expect to see in a normally developing baby in terms of coordination and muscle control?

Dr. Sara Connolly: Even at the young age of six weeks, babies will turn to sounds. Often the first sounds they turn to are those of their parents and siblings. They will stretch their arms and legs and may even roll partially onto their sides. This is one reason why we recommend putting babies to sleep only on firm, clutter-free surfaces; it will help you avoid accidental suffocation if they roll and accidental harm from falling.

Of course, their suck reflex should be perfect. Sucking the breast or bottle should have come naturally very early, and they should be able to do so easily. Some babies are able to keep pacifiers in their mouths by this age, although not all. They may still have a startle reflex when not swaddled, but it is not as pronounced as just a few weeks ago. They will often kick their feet and can withdraw their arms or legs if they encounter unpleasant touch. Of course, they can cry, and do so to communicate and to let off steam.

Is there anything parents can do for a 6-week-old to help him or her develop better coordination and strength? Are there proven benefits?

Start tummy time! Place your infant on his or her tummy for a few minutes at a time while awake. This allows them to gently begin to strengthen their necks, backs, and shoulder muscles. Some infants love tummy time and some are miserable, so it’s a suggestion, not a prescription. Allowing the infant to grasp your finger and then let go works their hand muscles. Stimulating them by giving them different places to look, even in their bouncers, introduces them to new sights and smells.

What do you look for in babies this age to see if they are developing motor skills? Is it grip strength? Coordination? Control?

The ability to suck well, as evidenced by good weight gain, is important. Pediatricians will also evaluate the baby’s neck strength by gently lifting them by their hands. The head lagging behind is normal at this age, but there should be glimpses of neck strength. We will ask parents about moving all extremities equally and digestion, which is often impaired in babies who are not developing normally. We will examine the infant’s “tone,” or the overall way the baby holds his or her limbs in space. Too tight and too loose are both indicators that something is amiss.

Is it fair to say that babies at this age are all developing at approximately the same rate, or is there a significant difference between individual babies?

Big differences are uncommon at this age. Most babies are fairly uniform in their suck, tone, and neck strength. The older the infants get, the more variable their development. For example, some babies walk at 9 months old and others not until 15 months, but both can be totally normal.

Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, August 2019

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