What Can I Do If My Baby Doesn't Crawl On Hands And Knees?

Tips from a pediatric OT for helping a baby crawl. CanDoKiddo.com

Lots of you have responded to CanDo Kiddo's recent posts about crawling: Why Do Some Babies Skip Crawling? and How to Help Baby Crawl Through Play . The #1 question I've gotten is about your babiess who've gotten mobile - scooting, commando crawling and more - but aren't crawling on hands and knees yet. While you can't force a baby to crawl, here are some ways to encourage hands and knees crawling if your baby seems to be taking a less traditional route to moving:

If Your Baby Isn't Crawling On Hands & Knees:

Remember When Babies Are Supposed To Crawl

Based on a 2006 study by the World Health Organization, about half of children will crawl on hands and knees before 8.3 months of age and about half will crawl after. Out of 816 babies, the earliest crawled on hands and knees at 5.2 months and the latest at 13.5 months. According the the HELP Strands 0-3 Developmental Assessment, babies aren't expected to begin to crawl until 9-11 months. 

Strip Baby Down To A Onesie On A Slick Floor

If it's cool in your house, turn up the heat for a few minutes first. Then strip baby down to a short sleeved onesie (or roll long sleeves up) and place her belly down on a slick tile, hardwood or linoleum floor. This gives the arms and legs traction while helping the belly slide. I found that my little guy would begin to bring some weight onto one knee with this setup more than in any other position, which you can see at 0:30 in this video:

Let Baby Crawl On A Soft Mattress

With close supervision (eyes on baby within arm's reach) let baby have daily belly-down playtime on a soft mattress. For my busy boy, this was daily "rough and tumble" playtime. But I noticed he was first able to get both knees under him and press up into hands and knees in this position a full week before he could assume the position on any other surface. 

Belly-Down Play On A Raised Surface

How to help baby crawl. CanDo Kiddo

I noticed that one of the benefits of Rowan's Montessori Floor Bed was that he often pushed himself backwards onto his knees to play at the end of naps. This allowed him to begin to strengthen the stabilizing muscles in his hips to bear his weight and the position was a great precursor to crawling. Don't have a floor bed? Toss a couch cushion on the floor and place baby belly down with knees on the floor to play.


Belly-Down Play Over Your Thigh

Help your baby crawl on hands and knees. CanDo Kiddo

This is a staple play position for most pediatric OT's and PT's. By allowing baby's belly to rest on your leg, you support some of the weight while allowing your little one to maintain hands and knees or at least bear weight through extended arms. Remember that in order to crawl, your baby will have to be strong and steady enough to reach while on hands and knees. With your kiddo across your leg, offer toys to reach for. Be sure to guard your baby's head as it's easy for her to lurch forward into a face-plant from this spot. 

Play Than Encourages Twisting and Reaching

In order to transition from seated into hands and knees position, your little one will need to learn to shift her weight over one hip and thigh and place both hands on the floor beside her - a skill called "rotation". You can encourage this motion by placing toys of interest just beyond her reach on either side of her during seated play. Stay close and offer a reassuring touch if she seems nervous. 

Play to promote hands and knees crawling position. CanDo Kiddo
Helping baby get into hands and knees position for crawling. CanDo Kiddo

Crawling Over Obstacles

If you have a baby who prefers "commando crawling", scooting on her bottom, or any other less traditional means of getting around, it can be difficult, if not impossible to shift this into hands and knees crawling. Why? Because your baby has found a way that works! You'll have to use some strategy here to make that means of getting around NOT work in play. An easy trick to try? Set up some obstacles to crawl over. Belly crawling, bottom scooting and other tactics often don't lend themselves to maneuvering over pillows, mommies and daddies, or toys so crawling obstacles might encourage your kiddo to come up with a new way to move. 

Ask Yourself Some Questions

If all else fails, you may just not have a crawler on your hands. But before you blink your eye and your child is a toddler, ask yourself these questions to help you think about whether something larger could be contributing to your baby's alternative style of moving. If you have concerns about your baby's development or if you answer yes to any of these questions, please consult with your child's pediatrician to determine if an evaluation by a pediatric Occupational Therapist or Physical Therapist is warranted.

  • Does your baby appear to favor one arm more than the other - for reaching or for bearing weight in Tummy Time? 
  • Does your baby always put hands down on the floor in a fisted position (instead of open)? 
  • Does your baby resist messy play or touching soft, squishy or slimy foods?
  • Does your baby get distressed when tipped back or tipped forward for diaper changes, bathing and other daily routines?
  • Does your baby still tend to extend one arm when turning her head or have trouble holding objects with two hands?
  • Does your baby demonstrate a slight head tilt or turn when sitting? In Tummy Time?
  • When you hold your baby up, does she bear weight on both legs evenly?
  • Does your baby seem very floppy, weak or more passive than other babies you've met?
  • Do your baby's arms and legs feel stiff or rigid (this is normal in newborns in the first weeks but should dissipate)?

Don't Lose Valuable Sleep Over It

Here's the thing - YES, crawling offers valuable developmental benefits to babies. And, YES, you want to make sure that something problematic isn't the root cause of a kiddo not crawling. But even in the absence of an underlying problem or issue, not every baby will crawl on hands and knees (it's estimated that about 4% of babies won't) and you can't force it. Remember all the things your baby is doing wonderfully. Remind yourself of all the ways you show your child love every day. Take note of all the wonderful ways you play with your kiddo. And don't lose valuable sleep over crawling. Make a mental note to do lots of animal walks (like these from Lemon Lime Adventures) with your child in a few years for strength, sensory input, motor planning and coordination.

To learn what other pediatric Therapists are saying about crawling visit:
Mama OT : How Does Crawling Develop
Pink Oatmeal : Baby Products That Promote Crawling
Golden Reflections Blog : OT Tip - Crawling

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