Why is Crawling Important?


Some parents and even professionals may not realize how important crawling is to child development. Babies typically begin to crawl with their bellies off the floor between nine and eleven months. This involves the following reciprocal movements:

  • left arm and right leg moving forward
  • followed by right arm and left leg moving forward.

What Motor Activities Prepare Babies to Crawl?

Younger babies eager for the freedoms offered by mobility typically learn to roll, rock on hands and knees and pivot between 3 and 6 months.   These movements  are wonderful because they not only build strong shoulders and arms, but also develop coordination between your child's left and right sides of the body. Someday this will help her pedal a tricycle, swim, and run because all of these movements involve coordination between left and right sides. The baby shown below is pivoting to watch the dancing bear move across the room.

The weight of your child's body on her palms while rocking, pivoting and crawling provides prioceptive sensory stimulation to hand muscles, joints and skin. This stimulation helps children to manipulate toys and other objects. Explore fun sensory-rich surfaces such as a shag rug or a water mat as baby bears weight on her belly, forearms, hands and knees. A baby learns about the spatial relationship between body parts and the environment and directionality as she

  • rocks forward and backward on hands and knees
  • combat crawls-drags self forward with arms while on belly
  • pivots- the circular movement a baby makes while on hands and knees. The pivot allows the baby to look and reach in a different direction.
  • and crawls on hands and knees (also called creeping)

The following video demonstrates how a mom motivates her baby to crawl toward interesting objects. I also appreciate her wisdom on avoiding overstimulating and/or confining toys.

Why is Crawling Sometimes Challenging?

Some babies appear to find the prone (on- belly) position uncomfortable..... Perhaps-miserable. Parents naturally do not want to make their children cry and may avoid these positions. As a result, these babies do not reap the many benefits of prone position such as

  • building upper extremity and core strength
  • right/ left side coordination
  • deep pressure sensory stimulation to  hands
  • visual and vestibular sensory systems stimulated with moving the head against the pull of gravity

Babies with decreased muscle tone, strength and/or postural control may develop these motor skills more slowly than typically developing babies.  I'm thinking of my many clients with Down syndrome.

Children with sensory processing disorders (SPD) typically have low muscle tone and poor postural control that may impact developing motor skills. In addition, sensitivity to touch and/or movement (sensory defensiveness) may make prone and crawling difficult to tolerate.  I frequently worked on tolerating  touch sensory stimulation during occupational therapy by pressing a client's hands on various surfaces such as a horse.

Another factor that impacts motor development is modern day overuse of baby seats and inadequate movement experiences.

The Problem with Modern day Baby Gear 

I am a big fan of occupational therapist, Dr. Anne H. Zachry's book Retro Baby.

According to Dr. Zachry, " Plastic devices such as car safety seats, bouncer seats, swings, and stationary activity centers keep a baby confined to one area; thus, if overused, they contribute to delays in developing motor skills. That's because when a baby is positioned in one of these devices, he has limited use of the muscles in his trunk, neck, arm and legs. Instead, he's forced to sit with his hips, knees, and elbows bent..... Please note: it is absolutely necessary to use a car safety seat anytime your child rides in a motor vehicle, so any limits on use should only be outside the car. Also, it is best to take frequent breaks and limit travel time as much as possible in the early months of life" (pages 3-4). In addition, Dr. Zachry writes "exposing your baby to plenty of tummy time strengthens the back, neck, shoulder, and arm muscles, which makes crawling much easier. In fact, as soon as the umbilical cord falls off, you can start putting tummy time and side lying into baby's schedule during awake time. The earlier you start, the more likely she will tolerate the position. And the more tummy time your baby experiences, the easier crawling will be for her" (page 17).

Encouraging Babies to Crawl

Its important to make tummy time and crawling fun! Motivate your baby to crawl in the following manner:

  1. Place toys to retrieve a short distance out of reach
  2. Position your baby to crawl on a slightly downhill surface
  3. Provide a ball or other easy-to-push object to chase
  4. Provide other crawling babies to follow
  5. Encourage your baby to follow a pull toy that you drag along.
  6. Build a cushion obstacle course

Preschool- Aged and Older Children with Disabilities

Most  parents are eager to see their baby walk. Its a wonderful milestone to brag about and it helps to keep clothing clean!  I cringe because I want to see children crawl as long as possible even if pants rip at the knees.

If you have a child receiving occupational therapy services, it is likely that many activities involve prone positioning. Prone position combined with movement helps children to focus while meeting their sensory needs. Some examples are to

  • complete a puzzle while on a swing or scooter
  • sort pictures on the floor while on top of a ball
  • color while on the floor

Older children who work and play in the prone position will continue to reap the benefits of weight bearing on hands, tactile sensory stimulation to palms and vestibular stimulation as they resist the pull of gravity.

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