Ready, steady, crawl
Your baby’s first successful effort at moving forward on all fours is an exciting moment to witness and represents a huge jump in development, says Nicola Davies-laubscher
YOU KNOW YOUR BABY is getting ready to enter the pre-crawling phase when he can sit without support, because that means he is strong enough to hold his head up and his back is strong enough for him to come forward onto hands and knees without falling. This usually happens somewhere between seven and ten months, although some speedy babies could start as early as six months. As with all developmental milestones, comparing your baby to a friend’s baby doesn’t really serve much purpose. Our babies are unique and develop at their own rate.
WHY IS CRAWLING IMPORTANT?
Crawling is much more than just a way for your baby to explore his environment. When a baby crawls, he carries his weight on his hands and this helps develop shoulder control and the arches of the hands, says Leny Loock, a neurodevelopmental therapist from Nelspruit. This development is important for later fine motor activities such as holding a pencil and drawing.
Crawling gives your baby mobility and allows him to plan how to get to objects.
“Of course he will sometimes get stuck in uncomfortable spots, but this teaches him concepts like body size and spatial orientation. Later he will need basic concepts such as top, bottom, left and right in order to learn how to read, write and do sums.”
When a baby crawls, he has to coordinate both sides of his body. “Crawling therefore also promotes the development of left and right brain activity, and the connection between the two sides of the brain,” says Leny.
This connection is essential for the coordination that your baby will use later as he grows, for example to participate in rope-skipping games.
This is the reason why developmental experts prefer it when babies crawl on all fours instead of shuffling on their bum.
“Other methods of moving certainly help baby explore the environment, but they don’t provide all the developmental advantages of proper crawling,” says Leny.
HELP! HE WON’T CRAWL Studies are beginning to show that more and more children are beginning to crawl later and later, or not at all, skipping straight to walking. One of the main reasons for this is the result of a campaign encouraging parents to let their babies sleep on their backs, as this reduces the risk for cot death.
An unforeseen side-effect of this campaign is that parents are taking the no-tummy rule into the waking hours too! The result is babies that are so used to only lying on their backs that they have lost interest in rolling over and crawling. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are late to reach their other milestones.
In a study by American paediatrician Dr Beth Ellen Davis that appeared in the journal Pediatrics, non-crawling babies begin walking in the same time frame as their crawling counterparts. In her study the babies who always slept on their backs started crawling at an average age of nine months, but a third of them never crawled. All the babies in her study group, whether they slept on their back or tummy, or whether they crawled or not, started walking at more or less the same time: one year old.
A study by a British doctor, Dr Peter Fleming, also published in Pediatrics, looked at the long-term effect of the back-sleeping campaign in the UK. His study revealed that since the beginning of the campaign, the age at which babies start to roll over and crawl has moved later, and that an increasing number of babies never crawl. However, by 18 months of age there was no difference in the developmental milestones of the back sleeping babies versus the tummy sleeping babies.
Leny says the components of crawling are more important that the actual crawling action. These include sufficient control of the head, strong enough shoulders, hip stability, trunk stability, trunk rotation and the ability to move from a sitting position to a crawling position and back.
So even if your baby has skipped the crawling stage completely, you should continue to encourage crawling games such as standing on all fours to imitate animals, for instance. This can help with the development of crawling skills even in the absence of crawling. YB