Crawling is a natural milestone that cannot be taught or enforced but would develop in time. The role of a parent and caregiver involves creating opportunities for their children to help them acquire this milestone without much hassle.
At what age do babies start crawling?
The average age when babies start crawling is between 7 and 10 months; usually, after he learns to sit upright, having developed strong head and neck muscles. However, some may start as early as the 5th or 6th month.
Your baby might not always do the traditional crawl but drag along on his stomach (army crawl) or move on his fours with his elbows and knees straightened (bear crawl). Some may crawl with one leg tucked in, pushing forward with the other leg. If he is otherwise fine, you do not need to panic as babies crawling in this way generally turn out fine once they start walking.
A study showed that winter-born babies could crawl at least three weeks earlier than those born in summer. This may be because the former reached the crawling age in the summer when they were less burdened with clothes and increased floor time.
Is it normal for babies to crawl backward?
Backward crawling is often observed in babies, especially when they attempt to crawl for the first time but cannot figure out how to use their hands and legs. They may push their palms and try moving in front but go backward.
Though you do not need to panic as long as he is flexible and all his other milestones are in place, take the initiative in getting him to crawl in front; like anything in life, crawling also takes a little practice to perfect.
Ways to prepare your baby to learn to crawl
Once your baby develops proper head control and strong neck muscles, as a parent, you can try to assist him in reaching the milestone quickly with the following measures:
1. Provide more tummy time to help gain muscle-control
Putting him on his tummy whenever he is awake gives him more scope to lift his head, thus helping to strengthen his back and trunk muscles which are the main prerequisites for crawling. If he gets cranky each time you put him on his tummy, have your baby lie on your stomach instead, as in this way you may make him feel more comfortable, also helping in exercising whenever he lifts his face to look at you.
2. Lessen bouncers and prams to encourage crawling
Your baby’s muscles would not develop properly if he is mostly confined to activity centers, swings, prams, and bouncers. Increased floor time gives him a higher scope to explore and move, helping him meet his milestones from crawling to walking fast.
3. Give sufficient space to make your baby crawl with ease
Try not to keep a lot of stuff on your baby’s bed or crib, as this will deter him from moving his hands and legs comfortably, impacting his motor milestones. Once he crawls, give him a bigger floor space so he can move more comfortably.
Exercises to get your baby to crawl sooner
- As using hands is essential when crawling, try massaging your baby’s palms with a washcloth to increase his flexibility and strength. Get him to stretch out his fingers and hands to acquire an object so he can use his palms well when he starts crawling.
- You can help your little one learn to crawl by using a towel as a prop. Make him lie on the towel, so his chest rests on it, hold both ends firmly, and move along with him. He may gradually learn the trick of crawling if this is done daily.
How to help and encourage your baby to crawl?
- Incentives to move: If your baby is too lazy to get on his knees or keeps crawling backward, tempt him by scattering some of his favorite toys or belongings all over the room, out of his reach. The pursuit to get his toys would indeed get him to move forward.
- Create obstacles: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends placing obstacles using pillows, cushions, or cardboard boxes so the baby has to negotiate the hurdles and move on. It is better to try when your baby has gained enough mobility, as this would increase their confidence, agility, and speed.
- Crawl along: If trying the above trick leaves him confused about how to get to his toys or move backward rather than forward, you can go on your fours and show him the proper crawling style.
- Keep a mirror: Babies enjoy looking at their reflection. Hence you can keep a child-safe mirror in front of him. Keep moving the mirror so that the desire to get a closer view of himself may provoke him to move.
- Play fun games: As your baby begins picking up crawling, you can play a catch-and-chase game with him. The urge to get away as you follow him will encourage faster crawling.
- Use a crawling mat: Lying him down on a colorful play mat or blanket with vibrant pictures of animals or birds would encourage him to move around and explore everything there.
- Introduce crawling toys: Toys that never remain stationary, like the press-and-go-ones or a crawling doll, could also prove useful. He would be thrilled to see these playthings moving and scooting behind them. If your baby is still crawling backward, these toys could also show him the right direction to move.
- Opt for a crawling tunnel: A crawling tunnel can also help, though make sure to supervise. Go for the ones netted on top instead of the solid-roofed varieties so you can keep a watch on him. You and your partner can stand at both ends of the tunnel with his favorite toys to push him to crawl from one end to the other.
Precautions for when your baby is learning to crawl
Childproofing your home
- Install gates at the top and bottom of staircases.
- Keep all medicines, sharp objects, coins, dangling electrical cords, soaps, shampoos, and other things that might hurt him out of reach.
- Put any tables or furniture with sharp edges away, so your baby does not collide with them while crawling.
Protecting your baby from bruising
- Place a floor mat or carpet to keep your baby safe from the cold and hard floor.
- Dress him in full pants, preferably the padded ones or proper crawling suits.
- Alternately make him wear crawling pads or protectors, particularly in the hotter months when dressing in full pants may be uncomfortable.
- Give your baby soft socks or booties, especially in the winter months, though shoes are not needed at such an early age.
Some parents consider giving their babies head protection to prevent injuries, though I feel this is unnecessary and can make your baby feel uncomfortably heavy. Supervising his movements would be enough to lessen the chances of an accident, which is more important if you have pets at home.
What if your baby is not crawling?
If your baby is not crawling even after he is 9 or 10 months old, there is nothing to panic about, as long as he is physically fit and has attained the other milestones on time. Many are known to skip crawling altogether, directly proceeding to cruising and walking.
After the initiation of the “Back to Sleep” campaign in 1994 to minimize SIDS, many babies were late in meeting the crawling milestone as they spent less time on their stomachs, while some gave it a miss.
Babies born prematurely and those who are a little big or heavy for their age may take more time to crawl.
When to worry?
Talk to your pediatrician if your baby:
- Does not show much interest in being mobile by creeping, scooting, rolling, or even moving his bottom.
- Could not figure out the way to use his arms and legs together in a coordinated movement by the time he was one year old.
- Uses just one side of his body while trying to move, like dragging along with only his left arm.
- Does an asymmetrical crawling and simultaneously has a problem making eye contact and responding well (might be associated with autism).
Motivate and encourage your baby, but if he gets cranky or irritable, stop the crawling exercise and do it some other time when he is in a better mood, as pushing too much does not help.
Dr. Mashiach has completed his MD at the Sackler School of Medicine, TAU; specialization in gynecology at the Lis Maternity and Women’s Hospital, Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center; fellowship in Endoscopy at the Polyclinique de I’Hotel-Dieu, Universite d’Auvergne, Clermont, France.
He is a Senior Physician, Director of the Department of Gynecology, which provides routine and preventative care services to its patients and a full range of gynecological surgical procedures for adequately managing its patients with benign gynecologic disorders.
He offers advanced care in all gynecological subspecialties such as Urogynecology, Colposcopy, Fetal Loss Clinic, and Post Menopausal Clinic.