Why is Crawling On Hands & Knees So Important?

DSC06698, 7-31-14, 8mo, Crawl1 crop smYes! Crawling on hands and knees is that significant. It often begins around 7, 8, or 9 months and can last …well, however long it takes!

If you have a crawler, observe her; or if not (or even if so), try it yourself! Specifically, which limb moves first? What part of the body follows next?

What makes crawling so special?

 

Brain development: the magic of crisscrossing

  • Hands & Knees crawling requires opposite-side limbs (unlike belly crawling, which emphasizes same-side leg and arm). This is called “contra-lateral” or “cross-lateral” (crossing sides). Watch how the movement sequences diagonally through the body as Baby reaches forward with one hand and her opposite knee follows.
  • What does this mean? (It’s super exciting!) You’ve probably heard a bit about brain halves. There’s an important pathway between these hemispheres–a band of nerve fibers called the corpus callosum. The crisscrossing of movement through the body supports the crisscrossing of information in the brain. That is, crawling helps develop this band of nerves that allows the hemispheres of Baby’s brain to communicate with each other.
  • In her fabulous book, Smart Moves, Dr. Carla Hannaford says, “Cross lateral movements, like a baby’s crawling, activate both hemispheres in a balanced way. These activities work both sides of the body evenly and involve coordinated movements of both eyes, both ears, both hands and both feet as well as balanced core muscles. When both eyes, both ears, both hands and feet are being used equally, the corpus callosum orchestrating these processes between the two hemispheres becomes more fully developed. Because both hemispheres and all four lobes are activated, cognitive function is heightened and ease of learning increases.” (p. 81)

Culmination of all previous motor milestones! In typical development, you probably saw:

  • Spinal, or ‘Head-Tail’: Baby rolled over!
  • Upper-lower: Baby pushed up on both arms at the same time to lift her head, or kicked both legs
  • Side-side: She supported herself on one elbow while playing or belly crawled—movements that coordinated a same-side arm and leg at the same time
  • What do you get when you combine upper-lower and side-side abilities? Not to mention your head-tail axis? You can put them together and move diagonally (crossing sides), or in any combination—basically, you can move any way you want, 3-dimensionally!
  • Get the full “Guided Tour” here

Spine learns about rotating (twisting)

Ability to cross midline (to move a limb to the opposite side of the body). This is important for reflex integration, daily function, vision, hearing, and learning

Prepares the hip joints for standing and walking: helps organize and shape the hip sockets. For more, see this great article by Keith Mankin, MD. Here’s a morsel: “The muscle function starts to reshape the hips.  As the hips reshape, pulled inward and forward by the muscle function, they become stronger and better positioned to lift the body and to start forward propulsion.  And ultimately, these functional changes lead to increased strength and balance which lift the child upward into stance and walking.”

DSC06547 7-29-14, 8mo, Crawl16 crop smStrengthens the lower back (whole torso) in preparation for being upright

Prepares the ankles for supporting all of Baby’s body weight

Strengthens hand-eye coordination

Supports reading. Really—all this integration of brain halves, reflexes, cross lateral hand-eye coordination, and whole body… Once, I had a mother of 7 report that those of her kids who crawled were great readers, while those who didn’t were having difficulty.

Do other “creative options” count?

Some babies crawl with one knee and one foot or scoot on their bottom. These babies very wisely found a solution for getting around! However, these options can actually indicate that they’re having difficulty finding both hands and both knees (there are many possible reasons why this can happen). So, they can miss out on some of the benefits of crawling. For more, see this post. If your baby is crawling ‘creatively,’ there are fun, nonjudgmental, noninvasive ways to provide support.

But some say crawling is not important

You may hear this. I’ve noticed it’s sometimes said for the simple fact that crawling often doesn’t happen these days—so if babies aren’t doing it, it must not be important. However, there are a few current parenting trends contributing to the inhibition of reflexes and typical motor development in general, such as propping in holding devices. An increase in the skipping of crawling points to these and other factors—it does not indicate that crawling is not important!

Dr. Hannaford again: “We have known for years that children who miss the vitally important crawling stage may exhibit learning difficulties later on. Crawling, a cross-lateral movement, activates development of the corpus callosum . . . This gets both sides of the body working together, including the arms, legs, eyes (binocular vision) and the ears (binaural hearing). With equal stimulation, the senses more fully access the environment and both sides of the body can move in a more integrated way for more efficient action.” (Smart Moves, p. 100)

Questions, concerns, curiosities?

Mamas (and others), always listen to your gut feelings, please, even if you’re told not to worry about it or that your baby will “grow out of it.” For more about working with me in a friendly, empowering, listening, respectful, supportive experience, click here.

The bonus, but only if you wait and watch

Crawling is profoundly important. There’s no rush to stand and walk. Allow Baby to crawl for as long as she will, without “walking” her, until she chooses to walk on her own, and reap the benefits for a lifetime! (And–be blown away by the fastest speed crawling you’ll ever see! Seriously, it’s worth the wait.)

DSC01929 crop sm

By the way ~ crawling isn’t just beneficial for babies! It can be of great support to children of any age, grown ups who wish to problem solve or maximize brain potential, and people who experience challenge in motor function or who’ve had a stroke. Go on, try it!

Find a printable version of this article on my Resources page.

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 trained Feldenkrais® Practitioner.
© Eliza Parker 2016, 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.

22 Comments

  1. Is there a certain age a child should learn to crawl by, to reap full benefits? For example, my daughter was one of those butt-scooters who used one leg, then went to walking at 14 months. We kept crawling around her to see if she’d pick it up, and around 17 months, she finally learned to crawl on all 4’s. Is it more ideal if they learn prior to age 1 and/or prior to walking? Thank you!

    • Hi Taina, thanks for your question! How wonderful that your daughter crawled at 17 months. To answer your questions–yes and no. In the natural progression of reflexes that kick off throughout the first year in typical development, yes, crawling on hands and knees prepares the body and brain for walking. That said, huge benefits can be reaped from crawling on hands and knees at any age–even as adults. I have 2 answers to “ideal”: in the general ideal of typical development, yes it’s ideal before walking, and my colleagues and I are able to read signals ahead of time if it looks like crawling might be skipped. On the other hand, even though your daughter didn’t crawl before walking, her body was wise to adapt, and that’s the beauty of your daughter. There are many factors that go into why babies don’t crawl. Sometimes the more important ‘ideal’ is that you had the awareness and were trying as best you knew how to encourage her to crawl, and that she eventually did. So now it’s an ongoing usable tool you can explore at any time!

  2. I can attest that creeping AND crawling are VERY important developmentally. I have a 12 year old that started a program called Brain Highways. We both, started out creeping and are now crawling. It’s made a HUGE difference for both of us. It’s a BIG time commitment. There is an online program. You are held accountable.
    Follow your intuition. It would have been nice to have this information earlier. I knew there was a way to help. The principle is called “neuroplasticity”. Definitely keep educating people! Shared your post too 🙂

  3. Thank you for this article. As a physical therapist, crawling is a frequent activity that I have done in my intervention–even for 10 years old children. And the results have been awesome.

  4. Thanks for sharing. My son just completed 6 mnths on this 29th Jan. I am very much concerned as he is still not turning and going on his stomach. Is it an alarm of any problem approaching or is it normal? As other than this he is very active. Pls do reply.

    • Hello, thanks for your inquiry. It depends on some other factors. Some babies don’t roll until later, like your baby. However, the concern would be if he’s uncomfortable on his tummy, arches a lot (not able to fold into a ball), straightening his arm and preventing himself from rolling, or other factors. Do be in touch if you continue feeling concerned and are curious about a Skype session.

  5. Hi. My son is 15 months now. He crawls the whole time. He walks with support. I was just worried about the walking independently milestone. Am happy to know that crawling has many benefits. Thanks to your article. But what is max by which a child SHOULD achieve the walking milestone?

    • Hello, some babies don’t walk until later, like your son. What you want to be curious about is if he’s not walking because he’s just not ready yet but is getting there, or if he is unable to for some reason (pain, alignment, etc). Notice if he’s able to stand and take weight in his feet at all, and if he pulls up to standing by himself while holding on. If he’s not able to do either of these things, you may want to check with a professional–I work with families by Skype, or someone local to you who works with babies and toddlers.

  6. My son is 12 and never crawled he used to shuffle around on his bum and pulled himself along. He has struggled with his handwriting,balance and coordination we had years of problems trying to get him assessed by OT, last year we were told it is hyper mobility of the joints caused mainly by the fact he never crawled. He had 2 sessions of physio and sent on his way. It is frustrating for me as a parent when you don’t get support from the education or health system because it is considered a mild disorder and very little is known about it. Great article☺

  7. My eldest used pull himself around with his arms no knees. Slow to speak, He has dyslexia. My middle son never crawled snd walked at 7 months, read at 2 and drew pictures and talked at 18 months a very high achiever. My youngest crawled for 2 years and struggles with reading and writing, still does. So I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule.

  8. My daughter was a bottom shuffler, she is now two and has a speech delay. I feel terrible that I didnt realise bottom shuffling could limit her brain development. What, if anything, can I do now?

    • Thanks for asking; crawling truly offers benefits at every age. Many parents have added crawling in later with their children. At age 2, you can get creative about making it fun to get down on the floor–play animal games that involve crawling, or chase in crawling, obstacle courses, etc!

  9. This article bought back so many memories! My Son has Cerebral Palsy and we went through the complete motor development and patterning program when he was 9 months old. Although really tough it enabled him to move and be more coordinated. I loved teaching him to crawl. He is 27 now and I am so grateful we had the opportunity to help him.

  10. Thanks so much for this article. I am a Nia practitioner and one of our practices is a sequence of movments we call the 5 Stages. Stage 3 is crawling. There are so many benefits to all of us, even if we are moving on in years.

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