Crawling 101

Your baby has nailed a good number of developmental milestones so far. They have worked really hard to battle gravity, get themselves off the ground, roll over, and sit up. Now, it’s time to move!

But, what does that look like and would it be crawling? Here’s what you need to know about moving about on hands and knees and everything in between.

What is crawling?

Crawling is any movement done in a prone position (belly facing the floor) to get from one point to another. Yeah, that’s a super broad term. Because of this vague definition, it can be hard to tell if your little one has actually accomplished it yet.

Learning to crawl, just like the milestones before it, is a gradual and complex process. They need to:

  • Have head, neck, and trunk stability
  • Stabilize and maintain themselves on hands and knees
  • Have strength in their arms, shoulders, and legs to support their weight
  • Attempt to reach for desired objects while in a stabilized position (sitting or quadruped)
  • Coordinate their upper and lower extremities

Crawling is their first means of independent travel to retrieve what they want without anyone’s help. It’s also important to note that there’s no “right” way to do this as long as the motor, neurological, and sensory foundations are there to get them going.

When does it start?

Crawling is a process. Your baby is constantly trying to coordinate and refine their movements to get to where they want to go.

Babies will typically begin to crawl between 6-9 months of age, usually once they are able to sit independently. You’ll probably see them do a commando crawl (where their tummy and legs are on the floor while they pull themselves with their arms). As they gain strength and become more fluid in their movements, they begin to creep (the familiar classic cross crawl of hands and knees with their body off the floor).

Just like rolling over, factors like your baby’s weight, how much tummy time they receive, as well as the rate of their muscle and motor development will affect when they achieve crawling.

Is it okay that my baby doesn’t really crawl like all the other babies?

Yes, crawling has many allowances. If they’re getting from point A to point B without a hitch, it’s fine. Here are some of the well-known versions of baby locomotion that your baby may use, in one or all forms, to get around:

  • Bear crawl – walking on hands and feet while keeping their elbows and knees straight
  • Bottom scoot – shuffling around on their bottom using their arms or legs to move forward
  • Crab crawl – using their arms to move backward or sideways
  • Tripod crawl – using two hands and one knee while dragging the other leg behind
  • Rolling – using a log roll to get from one place to another
  • Frogger – using hands and knees to thrust themselves forward while on their back

What if they never crawl? Is that bad?

Interestingly enough, about 7% of babies skip crawling altogether. This may be due to the reduction of tummy time and babies sleeping on their back to lessen the risk of SIDS. There was once the belief that missing the crawling stage can lead to learning difficulties or cognitive problems as they age. However, there hasn’t been any current, solid evidence regarding the association between the two. Additionally, it is not uncommon for babies in other cultures to skip crawling and go right to walking as they are carried longer compared to the US.

In truth, as long as your baby can coordinate each side of their body and moving around to their intended target by themselves, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. But, it’s still a good idea to encourage crawling through play since it has many benefits.

Why is crawling so important?

Even though recent parenting trends say that crawling isn’t that important, it doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable for your baby’s development. Some benefits include:

  • Developing bilateral coordination (the ability to use both sides of the body in a controlled and organized manner necessary to complete a task or activity) needed for dressing or writing
  • Enhancing body and spatial awareness needed to explore and interact with their environment
  • Engaging the tactile (touch) system through different surfaces on both hands and feet
  • Building upper body strength and stability needed to complete fine motor tasks, like self-feeding
  • Increasing trunk/hip strength and stability needed for walking
  • Improving visual depth perception and hand-eye coordination necessary for reading
  • Expanding problem solving skills when maneuvering around environmental obstacles
  • Integrating primitive reflexes that can hinder purposeful movement or postures, like sitting
  • Promoting autonomy and self-confidence by determining their own speed or destination

My baby crawls backwards, why?

Moving in a crab crawl is not necessarily a bad thing. When babies first learn how to crawl forward, some will go backwards. This might be due to their arm use when learning how to sit unassisted. When they prop themselves in a tripod sit, they build muscle strength in their arms. As they learn to crawl, they may push back rather than pull forward, resulting in a backwards crawl.

Another reason is the limited coordination and strength in their lower extremities. Tummy time, rolling onto their back, and sitting upright rely more on upper body movements. With crawling, your baby needs to figure out how coordinate their legs and have the strength to propel themselves forward.

It won’t be the first time your child opts to go backwards instead of forwards. When your child is older and first gets on a riding toy, they might also start off by pushing themselves back, going in reverse instead of forward. Nothing to worry about. Remember, as long as your little one can get to where they’re going with some coordinated effort, they’re fine.

My baby crawls with one leg out, should I be worried?

The tripod crawl usually raises a few flags for some parents. One leg is just limping along while the rest of the body is putting in the work. This asymmetrical movement may mean that your baby is favoring one side of the body over the other and is stronger on their preferred side. If this is the case, you will see this, not only with crawling, but during play, reaching, rolling over, etc. If your baby has a side preference, encourage the use of their non-preferred side as much as possible.

How can I help my baby crawl?

  • Tummy Time. Tried and True. Being on their belly gives babies the opportunity to gain the upper body strength and control needed to crawl.
  • Bribery. Just like for rolling and sitting, use their favorite toys as an incentive. Place objects of interest (or yourself) just beyond your baby’s reach. This will encourage them to get it, one way or another. To make it challenging, create a simple obstacle course using pillows or cushions, encouraging problem solving and motor planning (figuring out how to complete an action with our body).
  • Let them explore (with supervision). Developmental milestones require lots of practice to hone the skill. Place your child on the floor and let them move about their environment. This would also be the time to consider baby-proofing your household, as your little one will be curious and want to investigate everything at their eye level.
  • Give them a boost. If your baby is crawling backwards or having difficulties moving forward, place the palms of your hands behind their feet while they’re in a quadruped position (hands and knees). This provides a push off point needed to crawl.
  • Limit using baby gear. We included this in both our rolling and sitting posts, but there is a reason. Babies need to move their bodies freely to master their developmental motor milestones. Too much time in a baby carrier or seat doesn’t help gain the strength or the control necessary to physically interact with their environment by themselves.

When should I be concerned?

Although crawling is more or less an optional milestone for your little one to hit, it can serve as an indicator for any underlying issues that may be present. If you notice the following, talk to your pediatrician:

  • Using only one side of their body to crawl
  • Not making any forward progress in getting around
  • Falling behind in other developmental milestones (sitting, grabbing/picking up small objects, babbling, etc)
  • Difficulties using both sides of their body efficiently
  • Appears or feels stiff or weak when moving around

Once your baby has the coordination and muscle strength to get around, they’ll soon be standing and walking around in no time.

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