How Important is Crawling for Baby Development?

This post was sparked by a recent basement storeroom clear out with my now 14-year old son….but more on that later…

issues with skipping crawlingAll new parents probably worry about their baby’s development. Will he develop normally? Will she hit the milestones on time? And there are a lot of milestones to keep track of, as shown on the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website – covering areas such as social/emotional development, communication and cognition/thinking. But the area our son seemed to have an issue with was in movement and physical development….he wouldn’t crawl.

According to developmental guidelines (for example and WebMD), by nine months your baby should be getting into a sitting position on his own, pulling to stand, and crawling to get around and explore his surroundings. Our son, Elliott, definitely did the first two, but he wouldn’t crawl. Instead he perfected the art of rolling. Everywhere. And very quickly!

By rolling I mean rolling onto his side and then his stomach, and then his other side, and his back….and the whole thing over and over again. And he was very good at it. Each time he set out on one of these rolling journeys, he could only go in one of two directions – whichever ways his sides were facing. So he quickly learned to get to all corners of the main floor of our house by rolling in one direction for a bit and then turning and changing direction – with just a bit of a shift in his orientation so that he wasn’t going back where he came from. In this way he whizzed about the house in a rolling zigzag pattern – pretty handily getting from point A to B.

Hey Mom....look at me go!

Hey Mom….look at me go!

At first this was really cute and quite a marvel. And given that he could move about quite well, we really didn’t have anything to be worried about, right? Well, it wasn’t entirely clear. Since this was more than 10 years ago – at the very early stages of internet search engines – we couldn’t easily access the huge range of information we can all get today. And some of the baby books and articles at the time suggested there could be issues with babies skipping crawling, including for hand-eye coordination and social development. Even today, a few articles on the web talk about issues with not crawling – like potential delays in building upper body strength – but the majority say crawling isn’t needed. One article even pointed out that crawling isn’t listed on the Denver Developmental Screening Test, widely used by pediatricians to assess normal infant development.

Just to be on the safe side, we tried a number of tactics to promote crawling, including little pushes on his bottom and demonstrating crawling techniques ourselves (that was a hoot!). We also took him regularly to Gymboree classes from an early age, so he saw lots of other babies crawling around – but nothing worked. Until one day someone (a class leader? another mom?) suggested trying one of the collapsible-tunnel-photo-200many collapsible fabric tunnels in the class. My mom was with me that day and she put Elliott in front of the entrance to the tunnel while I encouraged him forward from the other end. But nope….he just rolled away. After trial and error, we figured out that we had to place him a ways inside the tunnel so he couldn’t back out – and need to steady the tunnel on the sides so he couldn’t make the whole thing roll. So there he was…stuck in the middle…and was he ever MAD! He made all sorts of angry grunting and mewling sounds and eventually started crying. But he finally began to reach his arms out in front of him and began “army-style” crawling on his belly!! I was so ecstatic I bought a collapsible tunnel on the spot for more practice at home.

And so it worked. After more time in the tunnel, he learned how to crawl and began using this skill instead to go exploring around the house. But in the end, I don’t think it really mattered whether he rolled or crawled. Even before the “tunnel therapy” he was already on to later milestones like standing and taking steps while holding onto low furniture. And he never had any issues with upper body strength or fine motor skills, despite a very brief crawling stage.

The biggest problem came more than a decade later when I found the flattened fabric tunnel in that basement storeroom. I thought it was such a cute story that I shared it with now-teenage Elliott, who insisted on opening it up for a better look. But instead of thinking it was sweet, he got rather annoyed and accused us of “torturing” his baby self! Moral of the story…whatever you do in the best interests of your child – save the stories until they have kids of their own and “get” how tough parenting decisions can be.

About the Author

Audra is an experienced pharmaceutical marketing professional, aspiring writer, and mother of Elliott, a high-spirited twenty-year old. Frequently tired but never bored, she has a strong interest in public health fostered by numerous years implementing global oncology education programs as well as by her twenty-year crazy (wild? amazing?) adventure in parenting. She recently earned a Masters in Public Health to augment her expertise in health policy and health promotion. Audra is a founding member of the PedSafe Team


2 Responses to “How Important is Crawling for Baby Development?”

  1. Donald says:

    One of my kids recently at the exploration age wouldn’t crawl either it was a bit stressful at the time because he would get frustrated. He wanted to move about but didn’t know how and we weren’t sure how to encourage him. I found this guide online about crawling and started trying to encourage using toys and pillow obstacle courses and things. This really worked a treat and it wasn’t long before our little man was crawling about all over the show.

    • Thanks for your comment Donald. Glad to hear you’ve found something that works. My issue was that our son had found a way to get around other than crawling – but we still had the concern about him skipping this step. We appreciate your input and hope you visit again.

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