There seems to be a debate about whether or not crawling is actually a “milestone” all babies should achieve. While it’s true that some babies never crawl before they walk, there are many benefits to this developmental skill. In my physical therapy practice, I encourage all my patients to crawl, and let me tell you why!
Crawling on hands and knees uses a cross-lateral pattern, meaning that opposite sides of the body are moving at the same time. This is very important for building neuronal connections between the two sides of the brain. This type of movement strengthens the corpus callosum, which is a bridge that allows your right and left brains to communicate. Connections that are strengthened through crawling are later used for high-level skills like skipping, hopscotch, and sports like swimming or soccer. I have found that many of my patients who struggle with coordination at school-age never crawled as babies.
When babies are able to move around on their own by crawling, they begin to understand the 3-D world they live in. Imagine you didn’t know what a box was, and you only saw one side of it. You might think a box is flat like a piece of cardboard until you move around it and see its other sides. Independent mobility allows babies to see different perspectives. It is also how they learn about distance. They look up to see how far away the sofa is, then crawl to it and feel how far away it is. Looking up, down, left and right while keeping their head vertical strengthens their visual motor skills and helps them dissociate eye movement from head movement.
If you have ever held a plank position, you know that supporting your body with your hands is hard work! Crawling builds strength in babies’ shoulders, arms, hands, hips, and core. This is important to prepare them for things like standing up on their own, climbing, swinging on the monkey bars, and even writing with a pencil. Many children who never crawled have trouble with handwriting because the arches in their hands are underdeveloped. Others may have trouble sitting in a chair for long periods because of weak core muscles.
The Big Take-Away
Every child’s development is unique. I don’t like for families to treat milestones like deadlines, because, at the end of the day, your baby didn’t read the proverbial “manual.” However, there are cases where babies may struggle with independent mobility skills, and early intervention is always best! Most babies start crawling between the ages of 6 months to 9 months. If your child is not yet showing signs of crawling at this age, talk to their pediatrician and have them evaluated by a physical therapist. By addressing any potential issues early, your child will experience all the great benefits of crawling that will set them up to reach their full potential.