10 Reasons to Encourage Your Baby to Crawl

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Crawling

by Dr. Lin Day (excerpted from “Tummy Time”, 2008)

Babies who are used to lying on their backs may miss out the crawling stage altogether and go straight on to walking. However, nothing can match regular crawling in terms of energy efficiency, co-ordination, stability and versatility. There is also evidence that crawling fires groups of neurons (brain cells) in different parts of the cortex responsible for visual processing, sensory perception, conscious planning and prediction. Crawling is a key period in the baby’s physical and intellectual development and it only takes a few minutes of daily tummy time to start seeing results.

10 good reasons for encouraging crawling:

  1. Stimulates the left and right hemispheres of the brain to work together
  2. Brings oxygen-rich blood to the brain, an important component to overall brain health and immune system stimulation
  3. Encourages cross-lateral exercise (left arm-right leg; right arm, left leg) which stimulates thinking and movement at the same time
  4. Strengthens hand grasp for physical activities and later writing
  5. Improves hand-eye co-ordination and eye-teaming (see EYE March 2008), which is crucial for visual development and later reading skills
  6. Perfects movement, control and balance
  7. Improves elasticity and contractibility of the muscles, which thicken and strengthen in preparation for later walking
  8. Reduces stress and frustration, which can be major obstacles in terms of learning and sleeping
  9. Gives babies a sense of freedom: freedom to explore and learn about the world, to create alternative exploration scenarios, to interact with the environment at eye level and to find out about distance and space
  10. Enables babies to explore the textures and properties of different objects and to find out what hurts and delights them

Crawling may seem simple enough, but the series of movements are actually very complex. Careful observation shows that babies alternate movement between the four limbs to maintain the canter of gravity and to propel themselves forward. For example, the baby moves the left hand with the right knee and then the right hand with the left knee (or vice-versa). The action is quick, easy, and reliable and the center of gravity is maintained with each movement. There is some evidence to suggest that breast fed babies crawl sooner than bottle fed babies. This may be partly due to the increased utilization of calcium, which is important in bone formation.

Crawling milestones

The first crawling sign may be soon after birth, when the baby ‘crawls’ up the mother’s abdomen to find the breast. Although the action is involuntary, it may be the baby’s first experience of tummy time. Babies that are regularly put on their fronts can lift their heads for a short period of time by the end of the third week. By the age of four months, most babies can push themselves up on their forearms and hold their heads steady. By the age of six months, most babies can sit upright without support and some may have started crawling. Although every baby is unique and development will vary for each individual, most babies perfect the art of crawling by the age of ten months.

Learning to crawl

In the early days of learning to crawl, it is easy to get the movements wrong! If the arms are too far forwards or the legs too far back, babies will end up flat on their tummies. But sometimes it is good to make mistakes! Babies that reach forwards for a toy or accidentally topple from a sitting position often land by chance on their tummies or on all fours.

Babies use all manner of movements to get from A to B. Some babies propel themselves forwards on their tummies, while others crawl backwards in the wrong direction. This is because the muscles in the arms, which are stronger than those in the legs, propel the baby backwards. However, as the muscles in the lower body strengthen, babies soon discover how to drive themselves forward. Some babies adopt spider-like movements (hands and feet on the floor, bottom in the air) to get what they want. However, these movements are not characterized by a coordinated sequence of alternate movements. Rather, they are a combination of awkward pushing, pulling and shuffling movements which are not energy efficient at all. Hands and knees crawling, however, is a very energy efficient and reliable means of locomotion. It also signifies that a certain stage in muscle control and movement has been achieved.

Brain development

Crawling develops both hemispheres of the brain, which grow in size and complexity throughout the baby’s first year. It also activates eye-teaming, a crucial skill in learning to read. There is increasing evidence to suggest that babies that have gone through the crawling stage have improved language and literacy skills when they go to school than babies that have missed out this important developmental milestone. However, babies that miss out the crawling stage do eventually catch up in their physical development skills.

Photo: Flickr user doniree

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