Should My Child be Crawling by Now? FOCUS Fort Myers Pediatric Physical Therapists Weigh In
Many parents think of crawling as the simple progression between head up/rolling and standing up/ walking. But as our FOCUS Fort Myers pediatric physical therapists can explain, crawling is in fact a major motor milestone requiring strength, coordination and motor planning. It is the first step toward independent mobility, which in turn will open new worlds and discoveries as well as lead the way to increasingly more complex movement.
Crawling is one of those skills that requires a child to use both their mind and body. The muscles in the arms, shoulders, neck, back and core need to be strong enough to support one’s weight. Vision is also key, as both eyes are needed to focus on a single target. Mentally, a crawling child is working to memorize facts and build navigation skills (“How can I get past the chair and around the coffee table to get to the toy box?”)
Although every child develops at a varying pace, most babies learn to crawl by about 6 and 10 months. Some babies breeze right on past crawling and go straight to pulling up and walking (read more below about our physical therapists’ take on this). So while each baby is different, we do encourage parents to ask their pediatrician or one of our FOCUS Fort Myers pediatric physical therapists if your baby hasn’t shown steady progress in becoming mobile by the time they reach 12 months. It may also be worth asking if early intervention is needed if his or her “crawl” tends to involve dragging one side of the body.
In general, crawling milestones may include:
- Prone position, pushing chest off surface while bearing weight with hands – 4 to 6 months
- Prone position, pushing up and shifting weight from one hand in order to reach with the other – 6 to 8 months
- Belly crawling – 7-9 months
- Quadruped position maintained – 8-9 months
- Commando crawling – 8-9 months
- Independent reciprocal crawling – 9-12 months
Again, these milestones all exist on a continuum, with some skills developing after others have laid the foundation. Not meeting a milestone isn’t cause for alarm, but it might be a good idea to watch more carefully at that point – and ask questions if you aren’t sure. If there is a problem, early intervention is often most effective the earlier it starts.
Tummy Time: Where it Starts
Our Fort Myers pediatric physical therapists are on the exact same page with our occupational therapists when it comes to Tummy Time. Although tummy time started to gain in popularity to combat a plagiocephaly (flat spot on the back of babies’ heads when placed sleeping on their backs), we also recognize that a child who doesn’t spend enough time on their tummy could experience developmental delays.
As mentioned earlier, crawling requires working the whole upper half of the body in order to strengthen the muscles in their head, neck and upper body. A child who doesn’t have this crucial opportunity to work their upper body may have a more difficult time when it comes to lifting their neck, turning over, sitting and reaching – all necessary for crawling and walking.
Other Ways to Encourage Crawling
In addition to promoting tummy time, parents (and pediatric physical therapists) can help with encouraging:
Upper body weight bearing. Using therapy balls or a wedge and close supervision, we can help a child work on pushing up from the arms, developing shoulder strength and allowing them to explore the space around them with more independence and control.
Reaching. FOCUS speech therapists do this too in a sense when they use “communication temptations.” For physical therapy purposes, we place a desired object just out of or within reach, giving the child the opportunity (and motivation) to lift their hands off the floor surface and grab the object. Doing this with supervision, it also allows practice with weight shifting, which is another important step needed for crawling.
Quadruped position. Encouraging children to move on all fours can be done with bolsters, wedges and therapy balls that allow them to remain stable, yet still master these motor skills in a way that’s fun.
Consider if you haven’t already switching up the environment, taking them to an indoor play area, a relative’s home or a park, with new ground surfaces and new sensory experiences to explore. We also want to make sure any “crawling practice” space is safe. Play tunnels can be great tools to facilitate hazard-free, fun crawling space.
What Happens if My Baby Skips Crawling?
Not all babies crawl. Some seem more interesting in walking, and start working on that right away. Although initial response may be, “Wow, must mean he’s advanced!” the reality is children can miss some key developmental skills (physical and mental) when they skip crawling altogether. This is because crawling is known to improve hand-eye coordination, fine and gross motor skills, balance and overall strength.
(There is interesting research by anthropologists and physical therapists indicating crawling is a modern evolutionary “trick” more common in modern societies, where the risk of predators and parasites less requires parents/caregivers to carry a child until they learn to walk. Nonetheless, research on the benefits of crawling is awfully compelling too.)
If your child is nearing crawling age (about 6 months or so) there can be ways to help encourage your child to crawl. Understand first: There are two basic kinds of crawling: Belly crawling and hands-and-knees crawling. Belly crawling is generally what children do first, and it requires coordination of limbs on the same side. Hands-and-knees crawling, however, requires opposite-side limb coordination – which pediatric physical therapists can explain is important because cross-lateral movement sequences require unique contra-lateral brain function. Basically, it activates both the brain’s hemispheres in an equal way. It activates not only both sides of the brain but all four lobes, allowing heightened cognitive function and ease of learning.
Encouraging crawling – making it fun, a game – can help them still pick up on this important developmental tools.
FOCUS offers pediatric physical therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.
Why crawl? March 15, 2013, Kittie Butcher, Michigan State University Extension, Ashley VandenBerg and Terra Dodds, MPT
More Blog Entries:
Physical Therapy Targets Gross Motor Delays That Spur Other Problems, April 6, 2018, FOCUS Fort Myers Pediatric Physical Therapists Blog