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Article: A Pediatric Physical Therapist's Tips on Baby Crawling

when do infants begin to crawl, how to help baby crawl, at what age do babies crawl

A Pediatric Physical Therapist's Tips on Baby Crawling

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Watching your baby learn to crawl is rewarding and endearing. Yet, as a mom of three, I also know that crawling can be stressful. From wondering why your baby isn't crawling to worrying they aren't crawling the right way, anxiety can take over.

We're here to help remove the mystery around how babies learn to crawl. To learn more, we spoke to June Gehman-Deane, a pediatric physical therapist. Gehman-Deane holds a master's degree in physical therapy and is an expert on teaching babies how to crawl. Discover everything you need to know about crawling below.

When do infants start crawling?

Normal crawling age usually falls between 7 and 10 months. However, as parents know, each baby is unique and develops at their own pace. Gehman-Deane says that no two kids are alike and bigger babies might take longer to sit up or crawl.

Parents should also remember that crawling is part of a long list of milestones. For example, your baby will learn to roll over, sit up, and hold onto a toy before crawling. The timing for these milestones is different for every baby. What's important is that your baby is making progress and learning new skills.

Why Crawling is Important

Aside from being cute, crawling is also important for development. What does your baby gain by crawling? Here are just a few of the benefits of crawling:

  • Builds your baby's upper body strength
  • Helps your baby develop hand-eye coordination
  • Boosts cognitive development

Gehman-Deane explained, "Moving around on their own is an important cognitive skill for babies." This ability to move independently helps your baby explore their world and improve their thinking skills. For example, when crawling, your baby might need to make a plan to get around an obstacle. Plus, crawling helps babies build skills in spatial awareness.

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Signs Baby is Ready to Crawl

When do infants begin to crawl? Gehman-Deane says that babies are ready to start exploring crawling once they can sit unassisted. From this point, babies can shift weight to their arms or reach out to grab toys. Eventually, they'll try crawling.

Yet, Gehman-Deane also explained that babies also achieve many pre-crawling skills. One of those skills is rolling over, which usually happens by around 4 months of age. Plus, babies can often push their chest up, extending both arms, by about 4 months of age.

Crawling itself is also a progression. Formal hands and knees crawling requires a lot of preparation. Also, not all babies do this type of crawling.

Signs Your Baby Needs Extra Support

How do you know if your child needs some help? As a parent, it's easy to wonder if your child is developing normally related to crawling. Gehman-Deane says, "Trust your gut. If you notice other areas where you see your baby is lacking, go ahead and talk to your pediatrician."

Gehman-Deane listed a few areas that parents should keep an eye on. These include not babbling, not being interested in toys, or favoring only one side of the body when moving.

In 2022, the CDC took crawling off the list of developmental milestones for babies. The reason for this change is a lack of data. Because there are so many different ways of crawling, it's hard for experts to say exactly what parents should expect. Yet, crawling continues to be an important skill in your baby's development.

The American Academy of Pediatrics created a great tool that helps caregivers identify motor delays. In the tool, you can mark off your child's milestones. Plus, you can see examples of both typical development and physical developmental delays for different milestones. These examples can help you know when to bring up an issue with your baby's doctor.

Pro Tip: If you notice something that concerns you, try to catch it on video. That way, you can show your baby's doctor exactly how your baby is moving.

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How to Teach Baby to Crawl

Crawling doesn't always happen automatically. Parents can help babies a lot by providing opportunities for practice. Plus, teaching your baby how to crawl is a fun experience. Here are some tips from Gehman-Deane on how to help baby crawl:

  • When your baby can sit unassisted, place them on the floor or a play mat. Put toys to the side of your baby, just out of reach, to provide a small challenge and motivation.
  • Place your baby on their belly for tummy time. Put toys around your baby in a semi-circle to encourage them to look different ways and try to pivot.
  • Once your baby can scoot or belly crawl, give them some additional challenges. Gehman-Deane says, "If they get frustrated, help them, but we don't have to make things super easy for babies. Many times, they like a small challenge." 

    What challenges can you provide? Gehman-Deane recommends putting your leg between your baby and a toy. Or, place a cushion or pillow between your baby and a toy.

    Show the toy and encourage your baby to find a way to get it. Whether they go around or over the obstacle, they'll work on their cognitive and crawling skills.
  • Also, when your baby can crawl and climb stairs, they'll need a motor plan to get back down safely. Whether they climb on a chair, stool, or up the stairs, caregivers can help babies learn to crawl off.

Gehman-Deane recommends caregivers supervise as the baby climbs. Then, they can help position the baby and show them how to climb backward.

Types of Baby Crawling

Babies use a variety of crawling styles. Not all babies end up using the classic crawl using their hands and knees. Other babies crab crawl or stick to the belly crawl or commando crawl to slither across the floor. Some babies experiment with their hands and feet, crawling without their knees. Yet other babies scoot across the floor on their bottoms or simply roll to get where they want to go.

When infants start crawling, they often go through a progression. They may start by simply pushing their chest off the ground with their arms. Then, they might shift weight to just one arm when grabbing a toy. The next step is often a belly crawl before they eventually use their knees.

You can help put your baby into position on their hands and knees. Then, gently pull back on their hips, helping them rock back and forth. Before you know it, your baby might try the classic crawl.

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FAQs Related to How to Help Baby Crawl

Here are a few common questions related to baby crawling.

What if my child doesn't show interest in crawling?

Does it seem like your baby wants to skip crawling altogether? Sometimes, babies skip the crawling stage and go straight into pulling up, standing, cruising, and walking.

Gehman-Deane notes that "Some babies are so good about communicating their needs that they don’t need to move on their own." For example, babies may point or say where they want to go so their caregivers take them there. By being aware of this, parents can help encourage their baby to move independently.

Even if your child wants to head straight into walking, they can benefit from crawling. One way to encourage your baby to crawl is to use the stairs. Or, remove cushions from the sofa so it's easier to crawl up onto it. Try using a favorite toy to entice your child to crawl on these surfaces.

My baby only crawls backward, is that ok?

Yes! All crawling is good crawling. "Everything counts," says Gehman-Deane. Remember that babies need to experiment a lot with movement and play. They don’t have to succeed every time.

Like us, babies also learn from mistakes. So, give your baby the chance to try lots of different types of movement. When infants start crawling, you can help them try different styles of crawling. Get down on the floor to play and see where it leads you.

Why does my baby want to crawl up onto everything?

Babies are learning to move independently. They are in a stage of learning and exploring. That means they naturally want to touch, see, and explore their surroundings.

As much as possible, give your baby the freedom to explore when you're available to supervise. Climbing toys like a Pikler triangle can help your baby start pulling up and climbing safely. Or, play on the floor using a play mat and toys like rattles.

How to Help Baby Crawl: It's a Journey

Helping your baby crawl is a long road toward independence. If you need help along the way, check in with your pediatrician or an experienced pediatric physical therapist.

Do you have more questions? Ask your questions and tell us about your baby's experience with crawling below. 

Posted in: 6 - 9 months, 9 - 12 months, Parenting

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