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Does your baby really need to crawl?

Baby crawling

Some say crawling is vital to proper development. Others argue it’s not essential. How do you know what’s best for your baby, and whether to intervene?

Does your baby really need to crawl? It makes sense that crawling helps strengthen a baby’s physical development. But what if your child’s crawling is delayed, or perhaps he sidesteps traditional crawling altogether in favour of his own brand of scooching across the floor?

It’s important to know what to expect, and when to intervene.

“Crawling ensures that your baby puts weight through his shoulders, elbows and hands. Most importantly, this helps build strength in all the muscles around his shoulder. Without strength in these muscles, he will have great difficulty in stabilizing his arm while doing intricate functions with his hands, such as drawing or doing a puzzle,” explains physiotherapist, Jenny Lange.

Crawling has not only many body building benefits, but also many brain boosting advantages

Weight-bearing through the hands is also important to develop the arches of your little one’s hands, which allow him to mould and manipulate objects in his hands.

Traditional hands-and-knees crawling is also a child’s first opportunity to practice bilateral co-ordination – using the arms and legs in reciprocal movements. In crawling, the right and left sides of the brain and body must work co-operatively together, starting a conversation between brain hemispheres.

This action is called cross-lateral integration, and it builds a foundation for future skills such as speech and language development, and movements that cross the mid-line: eye-hand-coordination, reading, writing and tying shoe laces, say Nubabi’s Carly Tzanos and Lourdes Bruwer. Navigating on the ground also helps visual spatial skills and depth perception develop more quickly.

In this way, crawling has not only many body building benefits, but also many brain boosting advantages. The freedom that crawling allows your curious little one fosters a sense of independence and accomplishment. Watch his face as he masters being able to get to his favourite toy all on his own!

As crawling becomes more automatic his concentration will shift away from the movement itself and allow him to focus on reaching a toy, getting over a bump or getting to you. Attention and concentration are learnt skills, which start developing even from this early stage.

How do I help my baby crawl?

One point all experts agree on is the importance of tummy time. Lying your baby on her tummy for a period of time every day will to strengthen her back – and provide the opportunity for motion in this position. Place a toy slightly out of reach, so she gets the idea.

A few minutes at a time is all it takes to get started. “If your baby does not like being on his tummy, you can cheat! Try placing him on his tummy over your legs, on your chest, over a large exercise ball or on the arm of a couch so you can “chat” to each other with your face at his height. Remember that your curious little one will not enjoy tummy time on his own; you need to encourage this challenging position by getting down on his level with him. Singing, chatting, or using favourite toys may help to keep him entertained,” suggest Carly and Lourdes.

It also helps to limit the use of lie-on-your-back activity centres, play mats, swings, and seats, and hours spent in car seats and strollers.

Crawling is a major milestone for your little one and some babies may need extra motivation, and at times, intervention by a professional to ensure they reach this target. As caregivers we may not always know when we need to take action or who to turn to when we do start worrying that our little superstars are not developing.

Generally, children should be crawling around the age of 9 - 10 months. If your passive baby does not seem interested in achieving this objective at this age you could start by encouraging him with tummy time more often. If your little one is not showing any signs of increased sitting, crawling or pulling himself up to standing around 9 -10 months then you may want to consult an expert for a few tips. If however by the age of 12 months your baby is not yet crawling or creeping, a consultation with either an occupational therapist or a physiotherapist is recommended, say Lourdes and Carly.

Lange recommends activities that promote rotation to both sides, such as placing toys out of reach to the side and helping your baby place weight on his arm while picking up the toys with the other hand, as a vital part of learning to crawl.

However your baby chooses to progress, remember than each little soul does it in her own time and in her own way; it’s no race, and how they got there will not matter a jot when they are 5, 10, 15 or 20!

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