Is crawling necessary?
Updated: Feb 8, 2020
Most parents remember the exact day their little one took their first step, but do they remember when their little one first started crawling? Crawling is often overlooked and more and more common it is skipped altogether, but is it really okay that infants skip this major motor milestone or should more attention be placed on how to encourage it and develop it?
Most babies start to crawl between 6-8 months, but more common with this generation, it is seen closer to 8-10 months or is skipped altogether. Most professionals agree this is due to environmental factors such as slippery floors, the "back-to-sleep" program, and baby products that can actually cause developmental delays, such as baby walkers and reclined seats/rockers used too often.
As more studies come out, new guidelines on encouraging crawling will surely be made. Just as the focus on tummy time has become more mainstream, so will crawling milestones be back in the picture. Most developmental therapists will agree that crawling is essential and even critical for early development. Read on to find out why and how to develop it.
What crawling develops:
1. Physical development and strength: Crawling helps develop the muscles in the fingers, wrist, arms, shoulder girdle, neck, back, and legs. When children skip crawling, they often lack the upper body strength to help pull themselves up, hold their head up for long periods in the classroom, hold a pencil properly, cut with scissors effectively, button/zip and more. It even can affect how they walk, run and jump.
2. Coordination and balance: The baby needs the coordination of both sides of the body (both sides of the brain) to achieve movement. As they crawl along, they are also working on eye-hand coordination. This skill is essential for writing and even throwing or kicking a ball. Crawling also develops eye-hand coordination as they are developing eyesight and hearing while crawling to identify their desired destination. This is important for future tasks such as riding a bike.
3. Spatial understanding: Crawling provides the child with an understanding of orientation and place in space around them. They develop a sense of spatial concepts. They learn how to go around, through, on top of, etc objects and realize how to negotiate the paths in the most effective ways. This is important for self- preservation, navigation, and problem-solving.
4. Brain Development: Crossing of the mid-line (the invisible line that runs down our body center dividing left from right) is essential for the cognitive development of the two hemispheres (sides) of the brain. When a baby crawls, they are required to work both sides of the body, resulting in both sides of the brain working. Our brains are muscles too and repeated crawling and practice help strengthen and develop both right and left sides of the brain to make sure they are in sync and growing.
5. Vision: Crawling helps near and far vision development. As they train their eyes to look into the distance for their destination, they have to look back down at their hands. They are working on calculating distances and making sense of what they see. It is a skill that helps us catch a ball, drive a car and copy things from a blackboard. They learn to track (focusing on an object as it moves) and scanning (moving the eyes in an efficient, quick manner to actively look for information in the environment) while crawling, which helps with reading skills later on in life.
6. Self Confidence: Crawling can help a baby develop a sense of confidence as it encourages them to interact on their own terms with others and the environment. They also can take calculated risks and learn boundaries and with each success, and failure, they discover both their potential and their limitations.
How to Encourage Crawling:
1. Tummy Time: Research has shown that the amount of time babies spend playing on their tummy does actually relate to their achievement of four motor milestones: rolling, belly crawling, crawling on hands and knees, and sitting up. Occupational therapists are very well versed in helping babies tolerate and thrive in tummy time. Check out how we often help to establish a tummy time routine, which is so essential to development. Use a baby gym, a therapy ball, fun positioning pillows, a fun sensory mat, or mother/father's chest to get tummy time throughout the day.
2. Playing on the back (Supine play). Place baby on their back and encourage them to turn their head in either direction to work out any muscle tightness. Practice kicking, reaching, and visual skills with hand and feet rattles. Did you know using a baby gym is one of the best all-in-one ways to help develop many skills? Use it with the toys positioned on the sides to encourage head turn and arms reaching across the body.
3. Rolling: Rolling is one of the first major contributors to the development of postural control as babies learn to finally move from one place to another all by themselves. This helps strengthening many muscles, in particular, core muscles. Encourage rolling by placing the baby on their back or in side-lying and having them track and/or reach for stimulating toys or towards sounds.
4. Side play: Laying baby on their sides during floor time play is important because it relieves pressure from the back of their head (preventing flat spots), helps them practice reaching, and develops eye-hand coordination skills. You can place a towel roll behind babies back for support if needed, use a fun baby mirror, and play with fun rattles to engage and encourage baby to look and reach in side-lying.
5. Sitting: While baby might not be sitting just yet on their own, encourage it through transitional positioning- placing baby in side-lying, on the belly, or on back attempting to cross the midline (middle of the body) while reaching for fun toys. Although most therapists want to avoid seated positional items such as the bumbo (a supported floor seat is much safer and healthier for hip positioning and development as well as stimulating playtime), sitting baby in your lap, using positional pillows, or supported on a therapy ball while engaging in fun play and movement games is a great way to help encourage independent sitting and baby’s ability to get in and out of sitting position.
6. Belly crawling: Belly crawling is the gateway to crawling on all fours and just as important (if not more). Encourage it with tons of tummy time on a smoother surface like hardwood floors or tile. Carpet creates a lot of friction and requires a lot more strength to pull oneself along. Wearing a simple onesie can help give input and grip to the skin and allow for a better grip. Alternatively, a fleece pajama with grip feet can help the baby push his/herself along without having to work against friction. Once baby masters belly crawling, carpet can help with hands and knee crawling, making it more comfortable on their skin.
Nichols, D. (2005). Development of postural control. In Jane Case-Smith (Ed.), Occupational therapy for children, 5th edition (p. 279)
Franzsen, D. and Visser, M. (2010). The Association of an Omitted Crawling Milestone with Pencil Grasp and Control in Five- and Six-Year-Old Children. South African Journal of Occupational Therapy 40(2), 20.
Hadders-Algra, M. (2005). Development of postural control during the first 18 months of life. Neural Plasticity, 12(2-3), 99-108.