We're all familiar with crawling as a motor milestone of infancy, but why do some babies skip crawling? And how important is it?
Reasons Why Some Babies Skip Crawling
Upper Body Weakness
In order to crawl, a baby must be able to briefly support the weight of her upper body and (still oversized) head through ONE arm as she reaches the other one forward. She won't magically acquire the necessary strength at 6 or 7 months when it's time to crawl. It takes months for her to work toward such a big goal!
Core Muscle Weakness
The hands and knees position requires adequate core strength to keep the belly from sagging. Back and belly muscles have to be strong and balanced to maintain the position for crawling.
Tactile Sensory Defensiveness
Some babies are resistant to bearing weight through open hands because their tactile (touch) sensory systems are hyper-sensitive to the texture of the flooring beneath them. Some of these babies fist their hands to crawl and others avoid it altogether.
One-sided neck tightness is very common in babies and, untreated, can lead to unequal strength and/or range of motion of the two arms.
Incoordination of Two Sides of the Brain
In order to crawl, the two hemispheres (or halves) of a baby's brain have to communicate with each other. There are both structural and developmental reasons why this might be a huge challenge for a little one.
Lack of Trunk Rotation
The way that babies start to move into and out of positions requires "rotation." This is a fancy term for twisting of the trunk and shifting weight over the hips. Pediatric Physical Therapist Nicole Sergent, MPT, describes babies with a lack of trunk rotation from too much time in Baby Holding Devices like this, "These babies are very stable in an upright static position. They often even sit really well, without ever rolling, crawling, creeping, kneeling, or standing. After I have carefully assessed to make sure, nothing more significant is going on, I’ll delicately share my diagnosis: CONTAINER SYNDROME." Read the whole fabulous post - Avoiding the Container Shuffle With Your Baby.
Infant Reflexes Still Present
Infant reflexes are tricky because they are normal and healthy at certain times but are supposed to "integrate" (or disappear) as our babies' brains develop. A big barrier to crawling is the presence of the Asymmetric Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR). While you probably haven't heard of it, you'll likely recognize it when you see it! When baby turns his head, he extends one arm in the direction he's looking and bends the other. This reflex typically integrates by the time baby is ready to crawl. If it sticks around too long, it gets in the way of this developmental milestone.
Infant Reflexes Not Present
See, I told you reflexes were tricky! There is an infant reflex that appears around the time that babies begin to work on crawling that helps them assume the position needed. It's called the Symmetric Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR). It helps them assume hands and knees when the head is lifted and more of a Downward Dog yoga pose when the head is dropped toward the chest.
In order to learn to crawl, babies need the opportunity for free play on the floor, unrestricted by Baby Holding Devices. They need LOTS of this time to work on all of the foundational skills and strengths for crawling and then to move through the trial and error required for mastering a new motor skill.
Babies need a reason to crawl. Most of the time, they need no help in this department - even without the presence of toys, babies will usually find something out of reach that sparks their interest. But, visual problems can lead a baby to be content to play only with what's within arm's reach. Babies with diagnosed visual deficits can be assisted in this area through adapted play activities using sounds, high contrast toys and more.
Why Crawling is Important
In some media articles, doctors have dismissed crawling as an insignificant milestone. As a pediatric Occupational Therapist, I strongly disagree! Crawling is important for:
- strengthening the upper body and core muscles for other gross motor tasks
- strengthening the upper body and core muscles to create a stable base for fine motor skills
- developing stability in the bones of the shoulder joint (the ball and socket joints of the shoulders and hips are shallow and unstable at birth but are molded into stronger, more stable joints through weight-bearing)
- visual development to quickly shift focus from near to far
- providing plentiful early opportunities for motor planning (movement problem-solving)
- refining balance
- integrating the movement (vestibular), pressure & stretch (proprioceptive), visual and touch (tactile) sensory systems
- learning to coordinate movements where two sides of the body are doing different movements
- learning to coordinate upper body and lower body movements
- developing body awareness and spatial awareness
- fostering independence
Did your baby skip crawling? Is he working on it? Do you think it matters? Start or join the conversation by leaving a comment below.
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