Baby milestone: Crawling
Crawling is your baby’s first method of getting around efficiently on his own. In the traditional crawl, he’ll start by learning to balance on his hands and knees. Then he’ll figure out how to move forward and backward by pushing off with his knees. At the same time, he’ll be strengthening the muscles that will soon enable him to walk.
When do babies start crawling?
Most babies learn to crawl between the ages of 6 months to 12 months.
Some babies use another method of locomotion around this time – like bottom shuffling (scooting around on her bottom), slithering on her stomach, or rolling across the room. Others don’t crawl and move directly to pulling up, standing, cruising (furniture walking), and walking.
Why is crawling important?
Traditional hands and knees crawling is crucial for developing bi-lateral coordination, which helps support neurological development important for later reading and writing. In addition, the feeling of hands and knees pushing against the ground provides essential “body in space” awareness. And it strengthens the shoulders which supports other fine motor skills such as self-feeding, dressing, and holding a crayon or pencil.
Crawling also changes the position of the head in relation to gravity, which helps develop balance and coordination, visual development of depth perception, and hand-eye coordination.
How babies learn to crawl
Your baby will likely start crawling soon after he’s able to sit well without support (probably by the time he’s 8 months old). After this point, he can hold his head up to look around, and his arm, leg, and back muscles are strong enough to keep him from falling on the floor when he gets up on his hands and knees.
Over a couple of months, your baby will gradually learn to move confidently from a sitting position to being on all fours, and he’ll soon realize he can rock back and forth when his limbs are straight and his trunk is parallel to the floor. Somewhere around 9 or 10 months, he’ll figure out that pushing off with his knees gives him just the boost he needs to go mobile. As he gains proficiency, he’ll learn to go from a crawling position back into a sitting position.
He’ll also master the advanced technique that pediatrician William Sears calls “cross-crawling” – moving one arm and the opposite leg together when he moves forward, rather than using an arm and a leg from the same side. After that, practice makes perfect. Look for him to be a really competent crawler by the time he’s a year old.
How to help your baby crawl
-Tummy time. From the start, long before your baby’s ready to crawl, give him plenty of tummy time. Placing your baby on his tummy and playing with him for several minutes a few times a day while he’s awake and alert will help to develop muscles that he needs to crawl. Tummy time can also prevent a flat spot from developing on head, which sometimes happens when infants spend a lot of time on their backs.
-Incentives to move. The best way to encourage crawling – as with reaching and grabbing – is to place toys and other desirable objects (even yourself) just beyond your baby’s reach. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also suggests using pillows, boxes, and sofa cushions to create obstacle courses for him to negotiate. This will help improve his confidence, speed, and agility. Just don’t leave him alone – if he gets stuck under a pillow or box, he’ll be frightened and may be in danger of smothering.
-Babyproof. A crawling baby can get into a lot of mischief. Make sure your house is childproofed, with a special emphasis on stairwa-y gates. Your baby will be drawn to stairs, but they can be dangerous, so keep them off-limits until he’s really mastered walking (usually by about 18 months). Even then, supervise him closely. For now, suggests the AAP, create a couple of practice steps with foam blocks or sturdy cardboard boxes covered in fabric.
By the way, you don’t have to invest in shoes just yet. Your baby won’t need to wear footwear regularly until he’s mastered walking.
What to do if your baby doesn’t crawl
Babies develop skills using different methods and different timetables. But if your child hasn’t shown an interest in crawling, figured out how to move her arms and legs together in a coordinated motion, or learned to use both arms and both legs equally by the time she’s a year old, bring it up at her next doctor’s appointment. Keep in mind that premature babies may reach this and other milestones several months later than their peers.
After your baby crawls – what’s next?
After your baby has mastered crawling, the only thing between her and complete mobility is learning to walk. To that end, she’ll soon begin pulling herself up on everything she can reach, whether it’s the coffee table or Grandma’s leg.
Once she gets the feel of balancing on her legs, she’ll be ready to stand on her own and cruise while holding on to furniture. Then it’s just a matter of time until she’s walking, running, jumping, and leaping.