How Many Types of Crawling Are There Really?

“Commando” (belly crawling), sliding backwards, hands and knees, crawling with one foot, scooting on the bottom: so many ways! Plus, some say crawling is not important? This topic can get confusing, so let’s demystify it.

In the first year, there’s a progression of specific movements, or “developmental patterns,” that happens in typical development. Each pattern prepares the baby in specific ways for the next. In this sequence, there are two main types of crawling: belly crawling and hands-and-knees crawling.

Belly crawling

It’s often referred to as “commando crawling,” “pre-crawling,” or crawling “with the belly down.” However! It’s actually a bona fide developmental movement pattern in itself! It requires a very different coordination than hands-and-knees crawling.

Until now, Baby has been pushing up on both hands and perhaps rolling. But her brain—and her curiosity—now wants to travel from one place to another.

Try it: stand on your two legs. What must you do to take a step? What must you do to even lift one leg up? Shift weight!

DSC02417 crop smThe full pattern of belly crawling has the baby pushing with alternating feet and shifting weight from one whole side of her body to the other. However, it’s the most difficult pattern to master, and some babies don’t end up in the side-to-side motion (this is neither “good” nor “bad”). Belly crawling is also the first time Baby can cover significant territory (locomotion)!

Now let’s “back up” a bit and mention pushing backwards. This is legit! Babies typically pivot in a circle and push backwards on their tummies before they belly crawl forward. It’s an important preparation for all crawling and sitting, and it organizes (strengthens and coordinates) the torso and shoulders like crazy. If you need a workout, just copy your baby!

Why is it important? In addition to learning weight shift, belly crawling:

  • Supports reading
  • Builds hand-eye coordination
  • Helps reflexes integrate (so that Baby can move according more to her intention than she “can’t help it”)
  • Shows the ankle, knee, and hip joints how to coordinate efficiently for hands and knees crawling
  • Leads to independent sitting
  • Allows Baby to travel significant distance
Her right hand reaches; her left knee...

Her right hand reaches; her left knee…

Hands and Knees Crawling

Yay! This is a culmination of all the previous patterns! Think of all 4 limbs. Baby has done upper-lower (e.g., pushed up on both arms) and side-side (used the same-side arm and leg together in belly crawling). Now, Baby uses opposite limbs: one arm reaches forward and the opposite knee follows. This action criss-crosses diagonally through the body: very different from belly-moving.

Why is crawling with both hands and both knees important?

  • Crossing of information between brain halves: develops the band of nerve fibers between the brain’s hemispheres called the corpus callosum
  • Ability to cross midline (to move a limb to the opposite side of the body)
  • Organizes hips, knees, and lower back in preparation for standing and walking
  • Supports reading
  • Expands hand-eye coordination
...her left (opposite) knee comes through.

…her left (opposite) knee comes through.

So why do some babies do other options? First, while I present an ideal, I also think it’s unhelpful to call any of a baby’s movement “wrong” or to say she “should” or “shouldn’t.” Crawling with one foot up and scooting on the bottom are wise—they were how the baby’s brain and body figured out to move, and that is a wonderful thing. However… these other “creative” options don’t offer the same benefits of the original two and can indicate compensation patterns (movements that make up for missing support). Scooting on the bottom can arise from having been habitually propped in sitting before she can get into sitting on her own, or other reasons. Crawling with one knee and one foot can arise from side preferences, anatomical particulars (none of us is really symmetrical!), or other reasons–again, not “good” or “bad.”

Help your baby get the most out of crawling

To get the most out of these brilliant patterns for Baby’s brain and body, please allow her to crawl for as long as possible, without habitually holding or propping her in sitting, standing, or walking before she can do so by herself.

If your baby has skipped or modified crawling, there are some simple handling tips to support Baby’s options and optimal movement repertoire. I offer in-person and Skype sessions, and we can respectfully investigate.

If your child is older now and didn’t crawl, it’s never too late for movement games! Think lizards and tigers!

It works for grown ups too!

Ah, but crawling isn’t just for babies–it can work wonders for adult brains! So get down on the floor and crawl with that baby!

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Eliza Parker is a certified Infant Developmental Movement Educator® (work of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen), Aware Parenting Instructor (Aletha Solter, Ph.D), Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, and is trained as a Feldenkrais® Practitioner.

© Eliza Parker 2015, All Rights Reserved, links welcome

About Eliza Parker

A certified Infant Developmental Movement Educator, Aware Parenting Instructor, Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, spiritual counselor, and trained Feldenkrais® practitioner, Eliza respects babies as whole people who enter the world knowing how to communicate, learn, and self-heal. Her Conscious Baby practice employs a unique approach to natural “I can do it myself” milestone development and attunement to non-verbal cues and crying. Eliza’s life-changing perspectives and respectful solutions toward common parenting questions transcend “typical” parenting advice. Her work addresses babies on the “well baby” spectrum and those experiencing challenges such as motor delay, difficulty in tummy time, and hip dysplasia.

8 Comments

  1. Hi Eliza, my baby is 11 months old and scoots on her buttocks
    Will this delay her walking? Winnie

    • Hi Winnie, thanks for reaching out. Timing of walking doesn’t matter so much; the bigger concern is to provide her support so that she can crawl on hands and knees. I’ll connect further via email 🙂

  2. My son mostly does the belly crawl but doesn’t use his right leg when he does it. He’s 11 months and just started doing some hands and knees crawling but is pulling up and walking furniture should I be concerned?

    • He’s showing you something about that right leg. You’ll want to know whether it’s a preference or he really can’t use it for whatever reason. I’d recommend having a session or at the very least keep observing him and see if he’s able to use both legs.

  3. Hannah Pattison

    Hi Eliza, I guess I’m looking for a little reassurance. My nearly nine month old has always been unpropped and we are following natural development and she is a lot ‘slower’ than all my friends propped babies in learning to crawl. She has just started to crawl the last week on her belly and I can’t help feeling disappointed that she is doing it with one leg only. She will sometimes use just her left and then just her right. Up until now she had looked so graceful and in control of her movements (her rolling is so beautiful to watch) Will the cross lateral commando crawling come or will she miss this out? I’m sure people are looking at me thinking she’s behind as I don’t sit her up! Also I feel like she is getting frustrated in her inefficient crawling method or that could just be me projecting my worries! Any advice very welcome! TIA

    • Hi Hannah, it’s great both that you’re following natural development and following up on your gut feelings/questions. I can’t say much without seeing her, to clarify my understanding of what she’s doing and to speak accurately to whether she’s “on track” (just going at her pace) or if there’s a reflex not opening up or something else inhibiting her (not a bad thing, but easiest when supported sooner rather than later). Crawling on the belly (commando) is a side-to-side motion that involves one leg bending up. Cross-lateral doesn’t come until hands and knees crawling. Some degree of frustration is part of what motivates development; at the same time, it can be a signal that support is needed. Please don’t hesitate to contact me for a Skype session (and ask me about $ options if needed). It’s a supportive, noninvasive, friendly time and I can show you some empowering ways to support her at this stage and also leading up to H&K crawling (without pushing).

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