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Motor Milestones

5 Reasons You Want Your Baby to Crawl

Dr. Allison Mell, DPT
December 29, 2022
5 Reasons You Want Your Baby to Crawl

It all happens so fast… one day your baby is sitting happily, peacefully playing with toys, and the next, they start crawling and are officially a mobile explorer. Once your baby hits this stage (normally anytime between 7-10 months), he’s on the go non-stop and you are left frantically baby proofing all areas of your house.

Recently, the CDC changed its guidelines, removing crawling as a milestone altogether. So you may be wondering if crawling is even necessary- aren’t there many toddlers who skip crawling altogether? Yes- there are. And there’s actually some disagreement among pediatric professionals about crawling being a necessary part of a child’s development.  Your pediatrician may say that as long as your baby is moving from one place to the other, it doesn’t really matter how they get there.. But crawling is so much more than just a form of mobility.

Here are the top 5 reasons why you want your baby to crawl:

1. Crawling Builds the Brain

Crawling is a skill that allows both sides of the brain to get practice working together. Our brains are separated into two halves, the left and right hemispheres, and are connected by a neural “roadway”, the corpus callosum.  As your baby crawls, his left leg moves in sync with his right arm.  This reciprocal movement activates and coordinates both sides of the brain and body. Using bilateral coordination, or coordinating both sides of the body together, is necessary for a lot of skills your baby will learn to do in the future; buttoning a shirt, climbing a ladder, opening a water bottle, and stabilizing a piece of paper while writing. Crawling is an amazing way to build these brain connections for the daily skills your child will need for years to come.

2.  Crawling Strengthens

When babies crawl, they are hard at work strengthening their upper bodies from their shoulders all the way down to the tiny muscles in their hands. In order to do many gross motor and fine motor tasks, arm strength is a necessity! Crawling is the only opportunity your child will have to use the arms continuously to build up this important strength. Your little leaguer swinging a bat, your artist coloring a masterpiece, or your little climber swinging across the monkey bars will appreciate all their crawling experience.

3. Crawling Improves Vision

By actively crawling through their environment, babies are building more efficient binocular vision. Their eyes are working as a team as they spot their favorite toy across the room and crawl towards it. Your baby is developing depth perception in their newly discovered 3-D world.

This early start to vision development plays a big role in later years for going up and down stairs safely, playing sports, and copying notes from a board at school.

4. Crawling Develops the Sense of Touch

Textured sensory play doesn’t have to mean big messes of paint, dirt or water. Crawling on different surfaces like carpet, tile, and grass, helps babies refine their tactile systems (sense of touch). Crawling everywhere is a great first sensory activity. Later on, the tactile system helps kids feel a bug crawling up their legs or choose which book to pull out of their backpacks without looking.

Once your baby is officially on the move, try placing your couch cushions on the floor to navigate.  Crawling around or over obstacles will help continue to improve strength, balance, and motor planning abilities. For some extra motivation to keep them moving, get out some toys like tunnels and balls!

What if my baby misses this stage of development?

It can happen. We can’t prevent our babies from moving onto the next stage.  Even if the crawling stage is missed, you can still encourage your toddler or preschooler to build similar skills through play and help them achieve all the above mentioned benefits. Some fun ways to do this:

  • Crawling through a tunnel as part of an obstacle course
  • Holding yoga poses (eg. table, downward dog, plank)
  • Hanging from monkey bars
  • Animal Walking (bear, crab, frog)

Does it matter if my child crawls in a funny way?

Yes actually, it does. Not all crawling is created equal! If your child is army crawling efficiently (army crawling is typical when baby is learning)

5. Crawling Builds Body Awareness

Weight-bearing through the joints-the hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees, and hips- provides tons of proprioceptive input by activating proprioceptors found in all joints of the body. These receptors send messages to the brain about where those body parts are in space. Since crawling involves full body weight-bearing, the brain is receiving and processing so much vital information as your baby crawls around. Having a strong sense of body awareness helps children understand personal space, sit still in their chairs, and navigate playgrounds fluidly.

Bottom Line:

Despite changes in CDC guidelines, the pediatric therapy community strongly believes crawling is an essential skill that lays the foundation for strength, sensory processing, visual maturity, and cognitive development that will benefit a child for years beyond the crawling stage.

Have some questions about crawling? You’re not alone! Here are some FAQs you might find helpful:

How can I help my baby learn to crawl?

Tummy time is one of the most important activities to prepare your baby for crawling. Getting them comfortable playing on their belly will help them develop their upper body strength, and eventually they will start to push up onto their arms and be able to get their legs underneath their body.  As they get more comfortable in this position, they will begin rocking back and forth on their arms and legs.  Motivation comes next, as they start moving one leg forward, gaining the courage to explore.

To get your baby comfortable on all fours, try placing her over your leg like this during playtime. Propping her belly up with your leg gives some support while allowing for the opportunity to strengthen the arms and legs to maintain this position on her own.

Is it ok if my baby is crawling “differently”?

Not all crawling is equal. Army crawling (past the initial learning stage), a 3-point crawl, or butt scooting are not going to provide all the same benefits as quardaped (4 point) crawling. If your baby is moving in one of these other patterns, it usually means that there is some tightness or weakness in one or more areas of the body. A history of torticollis, tongue-lip tie, or reflux can impact crawling patterns.

Dr. Allison Mell is the founder of Tots on Target and a physical therapist based out of New Jersey.

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