Baby Hints & Tips

Importance of baby crawling

importance of baby crawlingCrawling is more than just your baby’s way of getting around before they walk. Learn more about the importance of baby crawling and how it is a milestone that is crucial in your little one’s development. Emma, our resident physiotherapist explains.

Did you know baby crawling assists in developing:

  • Pathways between the two sides (hemispheres) of the brain
  • Eye tracking
  • Strength around hips, trunk and shoulder girdle muscles
  • Wrist strength
  • General coordination
  • Also provides sensory input through hands.

It is often said that it doesn’t matter whether a child crawls. It is true that some children who never crawl go on to develop without a problem. However, when a child presents in our clinic with letter reversals or eye tracking difficulties, or they are unable to skip, a review of their developmental history often reveals that they did not crawl on hands and knees, or did so for just a short time. Crawling can have important consequences for a child’s brain development, muscle strength and motor skills, and more intellectual pursuits such as reading and concentration.

Brain development

At birth the two hemispheres of a baby’s brain are quite separate. The pathways between the hemispheres develop and increase in number as the baby develops and masters activities such as bringing hands together in the midline of the body or passing toys from one hand to another.

When a child begins to crawl they use opposite arm and leg to progress forwards, and the connections between the two sides of the brain are established further. These connections within the brain influence eye tracking, which is where the eyes are moving together through the visual field to maintain focus on a moving object. The muscles around the eyes must work together to move the eyes at the same time, and this should lead to smooth movement. If the two sides of the brain do not work together adequately, the eye muscles do not work well together either, and eye movements can be jerky or appear laboured. Underdeveloped eye movements can affect reading and learning, and lead to concentration difficulties.

Muscle development

Crawling assists with muscle development because the position on all fours requires strength through several muscle groups. The shoulder girdle needs to be strong enough so that the baby does not collapse and land on their face. The hips need to be strong enough so the baby can shift weight to one side so that the opposite leg can move forwards. The same also happens at the shoulder girdle, as the weight is shifted onto one arm. The abdominal muscles provide stability through the middle of the body so that the shoulder girdle and hips can work together without the body rotating and falling down. Some babies with inadequate stability around their hips end up with their knees splaying outwards into a froggy position, or compensate by placing one leg out to the side and crawling on a knee and a foot.
Commando crawling is progression forwards on tummy and forearms. This is a normal stage of development and a step towards reciprocal crawling, however does not provide as many benefits. A child should progress from commando crawling to reciprocal crawling.

Weight bearing on the hands has two important outcomes: it strengthens the wrist, which is important for fine motor development as the child gets older, and it assists to develop sensory awareness in the hands. Coordinating the two sides of the body is difficult when both sides of the brain are not working together well.

Crawling is an ideal activity for stimulating brain development, strengthening several major muscle groups, enhancing fine motor skills, and providing a child with a solid foundation for maximising their intellectual development.

Common consequences of not crawling:

  • Eye tracking problems (e.g. missing words, letters within words or skipping lines)
  • Letter reversals
  • Midline crossing difficulties
  • Fine motor difficulties
  • Reduced concentration
  • Weakness through hips, trunk and shoulders
  • Postural concerns (e.g. difficulty sitting up straight)
  • Delayed walking
  • Difficulty standing on one leg
  • Coordination difficulties (e.g. unable to skip).

It’s always best to follow your Mummy instinct in all matters baby, if you have any concerns regarding your child’s crawling and development, contact a paediatric physiotherapist for advice. If you don’t have or know of a local paediatric physiotherapist your GP is a great first port of call.

About the Author:

Emma Armstrong is physiotherapist with 12 years’ experience in paediatrics. She is clinician and manager at Therapy and Learning Centre (TLC)Therapy and Learning Centre (TLC) (02 9476 0766) a specialist paediatrics Physio/OT practice with centres in Hornsby and Bella Vista in Sydney, NSW.For the past 8 years Emma has trained under a podiatrist who specialises in biomechanics, which has developed her passion and understanding of lower limb alignment and development. Emma is a mother to two small children and enjoys cycling when she can make the time!

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