Helping kids of all ages to live a more active life through FUNctional movement.
By Paige Pebesma, Physiotherapy Resident
When you think of babies, I’m sure crawling comes to mind! Crawling is often a milestone associated with babies because it’s their main form of mobility before they can walk. Some babies may skip crawling and go straight to walking. Although this is possible, it isn’t always ideal, because the skill of crawling provides so much more to babies than just a means to get around. I’m Paige Pebesma, a Registered Physiotherapist Resident at Play On Pediatric and in this post I am going to talk about the many reasons why crawling is so important and helpful for your baby’s overall development.
Crawling helps babies to develop gross motor skills in several ways, especially when it is a proper crawl- the typical hands and knees/quadruped crawl often associated with babies. One way it helps is by strengthening the baby’s muscles. When babies place their body weight through their hands and knees while crawling, it requires muscles in the shoulders, hips, core, and back to work harder to hold them up and strengthen the muscles over time. This strength helps prepare the infant for future gross motor skills like walking, running, climbing stairs, and sports.
Crawling helps by being the first real form of independent locomotion for a baby by letting them move from one point to another and explore their environment. This independent exploration creates confidence and self identity within a baby while also developing a sense of body awareness. When crawling around they learn what spaces they fit into, what surfaces they can crawl under, how to transition from different surfaces, and much more to help understand how the body works and fits into its environment.
Another way crawling helps is by building coordination between the left and right sides of the body by moving both sides of the body at the same time (in the case of crawling, it is reciprocal movement, or opposites). This helps a baby understand that they have two sides to their body that they can control separately by using and developing their left and right sides of their brain. Crawling is therefore a very useful gross motor skill that also helps build a foundation for future gross motor skills.
Although crawling is a gross motor skill, it helps with fine motor skills as well. Fine motor skills are small movement tasks that often use hands and fingers. Like previously mentioned, crawling involves placing weight through the arms and hands. This is the longest period in a human’s life where they will be placing their body weight through the hands, because once they start walking their weight is through their feet. The time spent on their hands significantly helps to develop strength and stability through the hands, wrists, elbows, and shoulders, which can help with many fine motor tasks now and in the future. It also helps with developing the structure of the hand. Strength and stability through the upper limbs can help the infant feed themselves and interact with toys. In the future this strength and developing dexterity can also help with self-dressing (i.e. buttons and zippers), using utensils, opening food jars and packets, handwriting and more.
Crawling can also help to develop some of our many sensory systems. Sensory Systems will be delved into in more detail in a future blog by one of our OTs. However, I will briefly outline some key points related to crawling here.
One critical sensory system is the visual system. During crawling, in order for infants to figure out what they are going to find, they need to use eye movements and eye tracking. They scan the room to find their target, while also tracking it with their eyes while they move. Infants start to gain a sense of depth perception when figuring out the location of the target. They also learn hand-eye coordination by moving and placing their hands each step of the crawl, and by reaching and interacting with toys. All these visual skills will be very useful as the child ages, especially when they use them later for reading, writing, sports, and driving (yes, your child might drive one day!!!!!!).
Crawling also helps our tactile/touch system. Your baby will likely crawl over many different surfaces, including hard floor, soft carpet, grass, sand, and many more! They will start to learn how these new materials feel on their hands as well as their knees as they crawl along. Once we stop crawling, it’s uncommon to experience such sensory input to these areas, especially our legs. It is also good to expose our hands to all these different sensations early on since they will be our main tools to touch and feel the world as we grow.
Our proprioceptive system, which tells us where our body is in space, can also be impacted by crawling. Now that your baby can independently move around, they start to gain an understanding of where their body is and develop a map in their brain of where their body parts are. The more we move and explore, the more we develop this system, which also helps our overall coordination.
Crawling also helps to develop the vestibular system, which is our sense of movement and balance. Before starting to crawl, your baby usually only moves their head to look around or they are carried when moving locations. While these help develop the vestibular system, your baby being on the move while also moving their head to look around creates a new sensation for their vestibular system which further develops it.
Crawling can help with some other different aspects of development as well. Crawling helps with motor planning which means knowing where you want to go but having to figure out how to move your body and navigate the environment to get there. Problem solving is another skill that comes with that because your baby will likely encounter many obstacles on the way to their target. Your baby now has to figure out how to deal with the obstacle and create a new motor plan in order to reach their goal.
When it comes to developing good upright posture once we start walking, we need strong core, back and hip muscles. As mentioned earlier, crawling helps to develop these muscles, so once we are in an upright position that requires us to fight gravity all day long, these muscles have (probably) been adequately developed already. Add the development of the sensory systems to this, and you’ve got a kid who can focus on more than just “not falling” all day.
You may notice your baby is on the move but it doesn’t look like a typical crawl. Although your baby is able to get to where they want to go, not crawling on hands and knees can sometimes impact the many aspects listed above. Some other movement techniques that aren’t hands and knees crawling are:
Army crawl: still involves arm and leg movement but their belly is on the ground
Non symmetrical crawling/janky crawl: one knee is down and the other foot is pulling them along
Bum scoot: sitting on their bum and pulling with their feet to move
Some babies may only use these different positions for a short period of time and then develop the classic hands and knees crawling, but some may never crawl on their hands and knees. If you notice your baby is only using one of these other crawling techniques, a physiotherapy assessment can help to determine the cause and work to get your baby crawling along.
These are just some of the many ways that crawling can help with overall development for an infant and help set them up for some of their future skills. Some infants may skip crawling and still achieve these skills down the road, but will likely miss out on some of the areas of development mentioned above! If your baby doesn’t have any interest in crawling or is having difficulties crawling, then an assessment with Paige or one of our other physiotherapists may help. We will help to get your baby crawling which can impact all these different aspects of development!