By: Bridget Hobbs, PT, DPT
During a physical therapy evaluation when I ask parents about their child’s milestones, I sometimes hear a response like “my child didn’t like their tummy so they went straight to walking.” Parents are often so thrilled that their child skipped the crawling milestone (Less babyproofing! Cleaner hands!) However, as a pediatric physical therapist I see on a daily basis what an impact crawling and creeping has on developmental skills later in life. Crawling is also known as army crawling, when tummy is on the ground. Creeping, in the world of development, is when babies’ abdomen is off the ground and they are going places on hands and knees. Crawling and creeping are such important developmental milestones so I want to shed some light on the big benefits of crawling and how you can encourage your little one to do so
Because of the back to sleep program, which started in the early 1990’s, babies are not on their tummies as much. The back to sleep program has done an excellent job at reducing SIDS, but unfortunately, many children get plagiocephaly (flat heads) and torticollis (tight necks) from not spending enough play time on their tummy. Without enough tummy time early on, another consequence is that babies can also sometimes go straight to walking without spending time exploring their environment on their hands and knees.
Babies who crawl and creep tend to have improved coordination, improved ability to read and write, improved muscle strength and better speech production when compared to their non-crawling peers. Crawling and creeping puts weight through the hands, arms and shoulders, which provides important strengthening. This position helps with grasp and stability and even strengthens the little muscles in the hand, which assists with fine motor tasks such as handwriting, using scissors and buttoning later in life.
Crawling is also a great core strengthener, which helps with balance and provides stability for speech production. Crawling and creeping provides babies with trunk rotation and repetitive crossing midline, which helps with tasks of using both sides of their bodies that they will need for playground and sports-related activities later in life. Crawling is also a time when the two hemispheres of the brain are communicating with each other, helping with bilateral coordination.
In order to help your child reach the crawling milestone, make sure they get plenty of tummy time from the start. Even when they are newborns, getting into a routine like 3 minutes of supervised tummy time after every (daytime) diaper change will yield great results. This will get them on track early on in life to have strong muscles, good balance and to enjoy tummy time.
When your child is a bit older (7 or 8 months), help your child get up onto their hands and knees by giving them some support under their trunk. This position helps your child gain the muscle strength in their shoulders, core and neck needed for crawling. You can even gently rock them forward and back in order to give them the input into their hands and vestibular movement they will need for crawling.
Here are some of my favorite toys to get little ones motivated to get moving on their tummies:
These colorful play yards are a great way to ‘contain’ your baby without strapping her in to anything. Babies are still able to roll and crawl inside of this playard, so Mom can fold laundry knowing baby won’t be getting into Dad’s briefcase. Bonus: This gate provides a nice barrier between baby and any four-legged furry friends in your home.
Play balls are so under-rated. This simple toy can provide tons of motivation to get your little one moving. Once your baby is able to sit up independently, roll the ball to them. Your baby will learn how to corral the ball and even will start to roll it back by 8-9 months. This is a great way for babies to work on reaching outside of their base of support and eventually learn how to transition from sitting to their hands and knees in order to crawl.
Tunnels can be a great motivator for crawling activities. Place your baby’s favorite toy in the tunnel or play peek-a-boo from the other side. Your baby may love the different sensory experience that crawling through a tunnel allows as an added benefit.
I am a huge fan of this tummy time mirror. Use this right from the start when baby is a newborn to help them to enjoy tummy time. When your baby is older, they will love touching the crinkly butterfly and spinning the wheel on the ladybug. This helps with baby being able to learn how to shift her weight right and left in order to reach forward with one hand. Weight shifting while on their tummy is an important pre-crawling milestone. Also, babies LOVE to look at themselves. Need I say more?
Crawling and creeping on hands and knees is an important developmental milestone and will provide the base of muscular strength and coordination your child will need later in life. Some children do skip crawling and creeping all together, go straight to walking, and turn out just fine. However, if you can encourage your little one to crawl, they will gain some important developmental benefits that will assist them with other fine and gross motor activities later in life. Whether your child is late to achieve milestones, such as crawling, or misses a step all together, it will likely turn out okay. So, keep celebrating all of those milestones and enjoy every step in your little one’s development.
For more information about Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley please visit EasterSealsDFVR.org.