Many parents ask, “Should I encourage my baby to crawl?” Especially if their child seems more interested in walking as an early mode of movement rather than crawling.
But skipping the baby crawling on hands & knees stage may cause your child to miss some important developmental boosts – both mentally and physically.
Research has shown that baby crawling increases hand-eye coordination, gross and fine motor skills (large and refined movements), balance, and overall strength.
Crawling Age: When Do Babies Crawl?
The crawling age starts as early as 6 months but can be delayed by an additional 4 months or more. If Baby is nearing the crawling age, it may be time to consider the following development benefits of crawling and ways to help Baby crawl.
Crawling Baby Brain Development: Criss-Cross Crawling
There are two main types of baby crawling: belly crawling and hands & knees crawling. Unlike belly crawling, which relies on coordination of the same-side leg and arm when fully mastered, hands & knees crawling requires coordination of opposite-side limbs. This is called contra-lateral or cross-lateral (crossing sides). This movement sequences diagonally through the body as the crawling baby reaches forward with one hand while her opposite knee follows.
Why is criss-cross motion important?
There’s an important pathway between the brain’s hemispheres—a band of nerve fibers called the corpus callosum. The criss-crossing of movement of baby crawling on hands and knees through the body supports this criss-crossing of information in the brain. That is, crawling helps develop this band of nerves that allows the hemispheres of Baby’s brain to communicate with each other.
Dr. Carla Hannaford explains in her book, Smart Moves: Why Leaning Is Not All in Your Head, “Cross lateral movements, like a baby’s crawling, activate both hemispheres in a balanced way. These activities work both sides of the body evenly and involve coordinated movements of both eyes, both ears, both hands and both feet as well as balanced core muscles.”
“When both eyes, both ears, both hands and feet are being used equally, the corpus callosum orchestrating these processes between the two hemispheres becomes more fully developed. Because both hemispheres and all four lobes are activated, cognitive function is heightened and ease of learning increases.”
What happens when crawling baby can then combine upper-lower and side-side coordination in her body? She can move diagonally (crossing sides). Additionally, with the spinal axis giving her an up and a down, she will now be able to move any way she wants – three dimensionally.
The Ability to Cross Midline
That is, to move a limb to the opposite side of the body. This is important for reflex integration, daily function, vision, hearing, and learning.
- Spine rotation: Crawling necessitates a twisting coordination through the torso.
- Strengthens the lower back in preparation for being upright
- Prepares the ankles for the bending and straightening needed later in walking
- Strengthens hand-eye coordination because it requires Baby to reach with her hands
Crawling Prepares the Hip Joints for Standing and Walking
Crawling helps organize and shape the hip sockets. As Keith Mankin, MD notes, “The muscle function starts to reshape the hips. As the hips reshape, pulled inward and forward by the muscle function, they become stronger and better positioned to lift the body and to start forward propulsion. And ultimately, these functional changes lead to increased strength and balance which lift the child upward into stance and walking.”
Crawling on Hands & Knees Supports Reading Skills
All this integration of brain halves, reflexes, and hand-eye coordination helps prepare the brain and body for reading. Crawling supports learning, creative problem solving, and brain function in general—so it’s also beneficial at any other age!
Do Creative Crawling Options Count?
Some babies crawl with one knee and one foot or scoot on their bottom. These babies very wisely found a solution for getting around!
However, these options actually indicate that they’re having difficulty coordinating or weight bearing on both hands and both knees. There are many reasons why this can happen, from both internal and external influences. So when one of these is their only option, they can miss out on some of the benefits of crawling. If your baby is moving creatively, there are fun, nonjudgmental, noninvasive ways to encourage hands and knees crawling!
But Some Say Crawling Isn’t Important
You may hear this. It’s sometimes stated for the simple fact that crawling on hands & knees doesn’t always happen these days—so if babies aren’t doing it, it must not be important. However, there are a few current parenting trends that can contribute to the inhibition of reflexes and typical motor development in general, such as propping in exersaucers or upright holding devices. An increase in the skipping of crawling points to these and other factors—it doesn’t indicate that crawling is not important.
Dr. Hannaford explains, “We have known for years that children who miss the vitally important crawling stage may exhibit learning difficulties later on. Baby crawling on hands and knees, a cross-lateral movement, activates development of the corpus callosum. This gets both sides of the body working together, including the arms, legs, eyes (binocular vision) and the ears (binaural hearing). With equal stimulation, the senses more fully access the environment and both sides of the body can move in a more integrated way for more efficient action.”
How to Help Baby Crawl (at any stage)
There are some things you can do from the beginning, as well as at any stage, to help baby crawl!
• Provide your baby with as much floor time as possible. This will give her freedom to explore her movement. It will be extra enticing if you join her on the floor!
• Allow her to discover sitting and standing completely on her own in order to help baby crawl. This will build adequate strength and coordination needed for supporting herself on hands and knees.
• As much as possible, avoid keeping your baby held directly upright in sitting and standing either by propping devices or by hand. This will help prevent her from developing excess tension that can make crawling harder and can even encourage scooting.
• Notice if your baby arches a lot, doesn’t want to curl into a ball and cuddle, doesn’t use both arms or legs, prefers to sit rather than move around on her tummy, habitually rolls long distances, may skip a milestone, or doesn’t seem to be interested in moving. These can be signs that respectful support could help provide your baby with more freedom of movement.
• Lastly, when helping your baby crawl, always listen to your gut feelings, even if you’re told not to worry about it or that your baby will grow out of it. Baby crawling on hands & knees is profoundly important. There’s no rush for a crawling baby to stand and walk. Allow baby to crawl for as long as she will, without “walking” her, until she chooses to walk on her own, and reap the benefits for a lifetime.
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