You’ve been as busy as a bee since your infant’s birth, and as soon as your little one learns to crawl, you’ll have to pick up the pace even more. Once your baby starts moving, she’ll have loads of fun exploring her surroundings and her sense of curiosity will increase—and she’ll find nooks and crannies younever knew existed, so be sure to completely babyproof your home before your little one is on the go. As your baby gains experience with crawling, she will get stronger and more coordinated, and her visual-spatial skills and self-confidence will improve. Because crawling contributes to the development of so many fundamental skills, it is important that parents provide ample opportunities for their little one to get down on all fours and move.
Building a foundation
Exposing your baby to plenty of tummy time strengthens her back, neck, shoulder and arm muscles, which makes crawling much easier. “From birth onward, start building large doses of tummy and side time into baby’s routines when she is awake only (after every diaper change usually works well). When she’s older, show her how to move from her tummy to a crawling position by putting her knees under her stomach so she can get up on all fours and rock back and forth. These are all great foundational steps to crawling. Have fun showing your baby all the neat ways to move!” says Susan Slaughter, occupational therapist and owner of Carolina Kinder Therapy in Charlotte, North Carolina.
All babies develop motor skills at different rates, some at a faster pace than others, but at around 6 to 8 months, a baby typically gains the strength to get into a hands-and-knees position independently. “When a baby initially pushes up onto her hands itis one of the first steps needed to develop good posture,” says Fawn Galvan, physical therapist in Memphis, Tennessee. “Pushing up on her hands strengthens the head, neck, stomach and back muscles; and rocking, shifting weight, reaching, and moving in and out of the hands-and-knees position help baby to continue to gain strength, explore movement, improve balance, and build on coordination and body awareness. Increased development of these skills provides a foundation for the mastery of lifetime skills such as coordinated walking and running.”
“The transitional skills that a baby gains from crawling are important in developing core strength and higher level developmental skills. Core strength is needed for all movement activities including simple play skills that we take for granted, [such as] climbing, squatting to retrieve toys from the floor, pushing or pulling a wagon, running, and kicking or catching a ball,” says Jennifer Durley, pediatric physical therapist in Collierville, Tennessee.
Your little one gains an increased sense of independence as she moves from one place to another without your help. She experiences motivation, goal-setting, and goal mastery as she crawls to reach toys and people of interest. Additionally, baby gains self-confidence as she successfully negotiates the environment. She even becomes more familiar with frustration and not getting her way because crawling results in your baby hearing “No!” more often than she did as a precrawler.
When a baby first crawls on her hands and knees, she gains a new perspective of the world. Crawling improves visual-spatial skills —as baby moves about the environment she actually experiencesdistance, relationships and three-dimensional space. Additionally, crawling is wonderful exercise for baby’s eye muscles, as she frequently looks up toward where she is headed then down at her hands, when moving from one place to another.
Look out! With baby crawling to new places, she has more opportunities to pick up, grasp, manipulate and examine small items, which improves her fine motor skills (just make sure nothing inappropriate ends up in baby’s mouth). Strong fine motor skills provide a solid foundation for future tasks that require hand-eye coordination, such as buttoning, snapping, cutting, keyboarding and handwriting.
The home stretch
Babies are naturally curious about their environments, and crawling and moving about independently allows your baby to have fun while discovering unexplored territory in your home. You may notice that when your baby first crawls away from you, she frequently looks back to make sure you’re still close. Don’t fret! This is perfectly normal. She is just seeking reassurance and building her confidence. Knowing that you are there for her has a positive impact on your little one’s sense of security.
Cutting out crawling
Contrary to common belief, not all babies crawl before they walk. In fact, according to a 2006 World Health Organization study, approximately 5 percent of babies never crawl on their hands and knees. Babies who don’t crawl on their hands and knees typically find another way to get from one place to another, such as rolling or belly crawling. As long as a baby is interested and motivated to explore her environment, she will usually find natural opportunities to develop foundational skills such as spatial awareness, muscle strength, coordination and self-confidence.
Provide a jump-start
There are a number of different reasons why a baby might not crawl, including muscle weakness, lack of interest or limited opportunities, but fortunately there are techniques that parents can use to encourage crawling. For example, while your infant is on her stomach, gently bend her knees, tucking them underneath her belly. Shake a colorful rattle to get baby’s attention then place it just out of reach in front of her. Position your forearm against her feet, providing a surface for her to push against. If she doesn’t initiate any forward movement, you can gently push against her feet and give her a tiny boost.
Allowing your baby plenty of tummy time and sufficient floor space to move about also encourages crawling. Another fun activity to promote crawling is to sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and position your baby over your thighs in a crawling stance, with her hands and knees on the floor. Every so often, gently lift her trunk so that she is putting more weight through her hands and knees and slowly rock her forward and backward. This is perfect for strengthening her trunk and limbs and may provide just the jump-start to crawling that she needs.