More and more babies seem to be skipping the motor milestone of crawling. And more and more parents and professionals are brushing it off as "not that important." So why do some babies skip crawling and how important is it really?
Reasons Why Some Babies Skip Crawling
Most babies who skip crawling don't have a major underlying issue worthy of keeping you up at night and sending you down a 4 hour Dr. Google panic. BUT, most therapists agree that one or more subtle issues are at play for many (if not most) crawling skipping babies.
As I describe each of these subtle issues, I'll offer in italics suggestions for addressing it.
Upper Body Weakness
In order to crawl, a baby must be able to briefly support the weight of her upper body and 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!
Start Tummy Time early and often. Increase baby's Tummy Time every week as he gets older. Many parents of newborns are told to aim for "5-10 minutes a day." Great for a 2 week old, but 5-10 minutes a day is NOT sufficient for a 3, 4, 5, etc. month old baby. Aim for over an hour of daily Tummy Time (broken into short sessions of a few minutes) by 4 months of age. I generally recommend 90 minutes for 4 month olds, including holding baby belly-down. Watch this video for Tummy Time tips.
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.
Offer baby plenty of time to move and play on a flat surface, with movements unrestricted by baby gear like seats and swings. Offer baby play time in a sidelying position as well as playtime on the back and belly. Encourage kicking play and reaching for the feet. Read this post for kicking activity ideas.
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.
Provide baby with lots of sensory play. Learn more and get ideas here.
One-sided neck tightness is very common in babies and, untreated, can lead to unequal strength and use of the two arms. Signs of Torticollis include a preference for turning the head one way more than the other, head flattening on one side of the back of the head, a head tilt (ear toward shoulder) or turn (chin toward shoulder).
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.
Provide activities that encourage your baby to use both hands together to hold objects, to clap, and to move.
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.
Minimize your baby's time spent in "containers" or what I call "Baby Holding Devices." Click to learn more.
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.
Offer baby plenty of time to move and play on a flat surface, with arm and head movements unrestricted by baby gear like seats and swings. Learn more about how much time in baby gear is too much.
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.
Tummy Time, Tummy Time, Tummy Time. Even once baby is 4, 5, 6+ old. Now babies who can roll belly to back aren't likely to stay in Tummy Time long but click here to learn more about encouraging Tummy Time once baby can roll.
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.
I sound like a broken record here but offer your baby PLENTY of daily time on the floor or a firm, safe surface (like a Pack 'n Play or similar playard). Default to "Floortime Play" instead of baby gear when baby is awake and happy.
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.
If you have concerns about your baby's vision, discuss these with your child's doctor.
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
Want an Easy Guide To Developmental Baby Play?
Struggling to know what to do with your baby to promote healthy development now that your little one isn't just a floppy newborn anymore?
Here's your expert guide - featuring 40 simple ways to play with your bigger baby plus how they can make your little one smarter and stronger.
What other parents are saying:
"Worth every penny to have developmentally-appropriate activities explained by a professional to help your baby develop their motor skills."
"Excellent enriching activities all new parents should know."
More posts for you to enjoy: