How important is crawling for your baby’s development?

Reading time: 7 min

If you think crawling is just for babies, think again. Crawling can be used as a rehabilitative and restorative movement in adults to achieve better communication between the brain’s hemispheres, and to improve brain function. In today’s technological society where computers rule and we’re required to think more linearly, we tend to develop the left-hand side of the brain more than the right.

And guess what? Crawling can help with this. Not only that, crawling has been touted as the new plank by some fitness professionals because it’s a great way to strengthen your core, glutes, shoulders, and hips. That said, it makes you wonder if there’s more to crawling than a tick on the old milestone checklist and a proud post on Facebook.

How much more? Well, there is some debate. Some experts go as far as saying it isn’t really a milestone because not all baby’s crawl and, therefore, isn’t that big of a deal. Other experts consider it to be the cornerstone of a child’s physical and mental development.

Me? Maybe not the cornerstone, but I am a fan. Here’s why.

The benefits of crawling

  • Brain development

Crawling encourages baby to cross the midline. This is the invisible line that runs down the centre of the body, dividing it into left and right sides. Crossing the midline is important for developing the two hemispheres of the brain. When a baby crawls, both sides of the brain must work together. Right arm with left knee equals one movement forward, left arm and right knee another movement forward.

But their brain isn’t only processing movement. It’s also developing their eyesight and hearing while they interact with their environment and get to where they want to go. Studies show that children categorised as early walkers or who skipped this stage altogether, have lower performance scores on preschool assessment tests.

  • Physical development

Crawling requires a baby to support its own weight while propelling itself forward. It’s a full body workout, helping to develop the muscles in the head, neck, arms, back and legs. It also helps to develop gross and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills are the larger movements your baby makes with its arms, legs, and body. Fine motor skills involve the strengthening of the smaller muscles in the body such as the hands and fingers, which will help further down the line with pencil grip and the fastening of clothing.

  • Co-ordination and balance

Crawling helps to develop balance which is an essential requirement for the big W – walking. It’s also the beginning stage of developing hand-eye co-ordination. Reaching for objects and moving forward requires them to use their eyes to direct their attention and their hands to execute the task. This is important later in life for things like writing and kicking a ball.

“Crawling helps to develop baby’s understanding of the physical world around them in terms of their relationship and position within it.”

  • Vision

Crawling helps to develop binocular vision. In other words, far and near vision. While crawling, babies train their eyes to look into the distance and then back at their hands. This helps with things like catching a ball, driving a car, and copying things from a blackboard. Crawling also helps babies track objects, which can help with reading at a later stage.

  • Spatial understanding

Crawling helps to develop baby’s understanding of the physical world around them in terms of their relationship and position within it. With practise and experience, they learn to crawl around the object in their way instead of over it. They get good at determining the most efficient path to where they want to go. This helps to develop navigation and problem-solving skills.

  • Self-confidence

When babies crawl and interact with their environment, they start making some of their first decisions. They take risks and with each success and failure get to know what they can and can’t do. They learn how to overcome failure and, with the experience gained, takes risks that are more calculated, thereby, increasing their chance of success. This allows their confidence to grow and encourages them to build on what they can do.

10 tips to help baby crawl

  1. Raise the surface for baby’s hands. When babies put their hands on a slightly higher surface it can encourage them to bear weight on their knees.
  1. Let baby play in front of a mirror. Babies love looking at themselves in the mirror and can provide great motivation to crawl up and say hello.
  1. Tummy time! Tummy time! Tummy time! I know you’ve heard it before, but tummy time is a biggie. There’s no getting around it. Research has shown that there is a relationship between the amount of time babies spend playing on their tummies and reaching their milestones.
  1. Play with baby tummy-down on an exercise ball while gently rocking forward-backwards, diagonally, and side-to-side. This helps to simulate the weight shifts needed for crawling.
  1. Offer playtime on a squishy surface. Think about it. Would you rather face plant on the floor or something softer like a crib mattress or couch cushions? There’s something about the give of a softer surface that makes it easier for babies to experiment with crawling on their hands and knees.
  1. Roll up a receiving blanket and place it under baby’s tummy while supporting them in a crawling position. Figuring out how to get their tummy off the floor can sometimes be tricky. A little bit of support helps them get the feel for what it’s like on hands and knees.
  1. Place their favourite toys just out of reach. This can be done while they are on their tummy or sitting. Both will encourage pulling or shifting their weight forward.
  1. Let them crawl through a tunnel. A tunnel can be a great way to encourage exploration and crawling. Some of your more adventurous babies will dive in out of pure curiosity, while others may chase a ball or toy placed inside the tunnel.
  1. Get them outside. A change in scenery can do wonders to motivate the desire to explore and crawl. But be sure to bring those ninja reflexes along because before you know it, baby’s snacking on some or other creepy-crawly or has a mouth full of sand – or worse. For some reason, babies don’t seem to mind the little parcels Rufus leaves on the grass as much as we do.
  1. Consider a trip to the chiropractor or physiotherapist. Muscular spasm and faulty joint function may cause pain and discomfort. A baby with a sore shoulder, back or hip for example, may not want to crawl.

What if my toddler skipped crawling?

It’s okay. It’s not too late. They can still benefit from crawling even if they’ve moved on to a new stage. Play games that mimic crawling. Get down on the floor and pretend to be their favourite animal or, if they’re older, get them to march or even have a crawling race with them. Just make sure they’re using opposite arms and legs.

The takeaway?

Crawl, baby, crawl! You too, mom. After all, there’s some benefit in it for you as well.

There to lend a hand,

Dr Tony

This article was written for BabyYumYum by our partner chiropractor, Dr Tony Karpelowsky.