The Importance of Crawling

Photo02291552Most parents can tell you approximately when each of their children hit the big developmental milestones. Smiling, rolling, walking, talking; all of these are dutifully recorded and happily chatted over with friends. One milestone, though, frequently seems to get overlooked and, in some cases, parents encourage their baby to skip it altogether – crawling.

By 9 months, more or less, baby should be displaying some sort of locomotion. For many, this starts with rolling, progresses into the arm propelled “army crawl,” and then morphs into full blown traditional crawling. Some babies crawl awkwardly, such as with arms and legs out of sync or even backwards, while other children skip the traditional crawl altogether. We’ve all heard friends brag “He looks like he’s going to skip crawling and go straight to walking!”

Crawling, though, may or may not be an inconsequential step. When I sat down to write about this, I was sure that crawling being important was a fact. I’d heard a few arguments that were extremely convincing. But, as is the way of the Internet, the opinions and arguments I’d come across were not the only ones. It turns out that the jury is out on the topic.   I found a number of sources that whole heartedly reject the idea. Some (such as here and here) argue that we have insufficient evidence to worry over a lack of crawling, while others go so far as to re-introduce crawling as a form of physical and occupational therapy to make up for time lost. Many point out that at various times in history, crawling was entirely discouraged and/or that there still exist today cultures where babies are not given the opportunity to crawl, yet show no ill effects.

So what did I learn in my research? That many people involved in the neurology or psychology will tell you that skipping crawling does not cause issues with brain development and that crawling therapies do not fix anything with brain development. Neurologically, other developmental issues may contribute to a child that doesn’t crawl, but it’s not skipping the crawl itself that does the harm. Skipping crawling was a symptom of an issue, not the source of it.

Physically, though, you may read a host of other opinions. According to some of my research, crawling benefits a baby by strengthening their core, shoulders, and wrists, by introducing binocular vision (looking ahead at a goal before looking down to move forward), by enhancing hand-eye coordination, by improving balance, and may even impact future penmanship and fine motor skills by opening and strengthening joints in the hand. All of these benefits, if true, would certainly seem like reasons to encourage crawling.

What should we, the well-meaning parents, take from all of this? Honestly, that tummy time is important. I know, you’re wondering how I just jumped backward from crawling to tummy time. Basically, it seems that when we began the “Back to Sleep” initiative to reduce the incidence of SIDS, we took away a lot of time our children spent on their stomach. In turn, we appeared to see an increase in the number of children who skipped traditional crawling and went straight to walking, yet there was not a measured difference in walking age between both groups. So if you’re concerned, your best bet is to allow for plenty of tummy time when baby is young, giving her the chance to increase core and neck strength, and then simply let your baby dictate her course from there. Play on the floor with her. Place toys slightly out of reach to encourage locomotion. And if you find that she pulls to stand and walks early, get a jump start on that child proofing!

Kate Cunha lives in the Pacific NW and is mom to one beautiful 3-year-old girl.

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