Parents of babies often ask their pediatrician or pediatric therapist if crawling is an important milestone in an infant’s development, since some babies seem to skip it. The answer is a very strong and resounding YES! Crawling on hands and knees is an important skill with many benefits, some of which extend as far as school-age.
Most babies start crawling at about 8 months. In order for a baby to be able to initiate crawling, he or she needs to be able to assume a quadruped position from sitting or from prone position. This skill requires a lot of strength in the arms, back, and core musculature. Crawling requires babies to coordinate movement of their arms and legs reciprocally while maintaining their balance and postural control while moving forward.
Here are some benefits of crawling on hands and knees:
- It strengthens the muscles in the arms, shoulders, and back
- When a baby shifts between sitting and crawling, it strengthens the abdominal muscles and hip musculature (core strength), improving postural control and balance
- Increased flexibility in the wrists, fingers and ankles
- The reciprocal movement of the arms and legs as well as the rotation and counter-rotation that takes place in the thoracic spine prepares babies for walking
- Moving through and exploring the environment stimulates the baby’s brain development
- Shifting visual focus from the floor and out into the environment develops binocular vision, which later comes into play in the classroom setting
- The tactile input a baby gets through their hands while crawling is important for the later development of hand-eye coordination
- Weight bearing through the hands helps with development of the arches of the palm
- Often when crawling, infants carry an object in their hand. This encourages them to shift their weight onto the outside part of their other hand, promoting control
- Once on their hands and knees, babies love to rock back and forth. Therapists call this skill quadruped rocking, and it gives babies vestibular, proprioceptive, and kinesthetic stimulation
A new motor skill can initiate a cascade of new experiences for a baby. Crawling on hands and knees is a critical skill because it gives the baby an independent means of moving within his or her environment.
Magdalena Oledzka is a pediatric physical therapist and is the Director of the CA Technologies Rehabilitation Center at the Lerner’s Children’s Pavilion, Hospital for Special Surgery. She is NDT trained in the management and treatment of children with cerebral palsy and other neuromotor disorders.