Check any new parent’s cell phone nowadays and it will be chock full of pictures and videos of their baby’s milestones: baby’s first smile, baby’s first step, baby’s first word. But what if their baby doesn’t want to crawl or maybe skips crawling altogether? Other than a missed photo opportunity, how important is that milestone to a child’s development?

The short answer is very, not so much or depends.

Babies usually start crawling between 6 to 10 months, though doctors have noticed a more delayed onset of crawling since the start of the Back to Sleep program and decreased tummy time opportunities. Crawling is an important motor activity for babies that helps develop so many parts of their little bodies and integrate their different body systems. When they crawl, babies are learning problem solving skills to navigate the world around them. They are also increasing the strength in their arms, legs and trunk, as well improving their coordination. Crawling can also help with their vision skills as they have to alternate looking in the distance and nearby to move around safely and the pressure through their hands provides valuable sensory input and develops arches that are necessary for handwriting.

However, not all children crawl and still go on to develop normally and there is less of a concern by doctors if this milestone is skipped. There have been anthropological studies of different areas of the world where crawling has been discouraged and even unsafe for the baby. You may even have a personal anecdote of a friend or relative that went straight to walking.

While it is important to provide as many opportunities to encourage your baby to crawl, there are other factors to look at if there are concerns about a child not crawling. Is the child refusing to move at all? Do they favor one side over the other? Do their arms, legs or trunk seem really “stiff” or “floppy”? Are there other delays in their development, such as not speaking or not using their hands? These are all concerns that should be brought up with your pediatrician.

If a child decides to skip crawling and moves to walking, there are other ways to help them develop those important skills that crawling provides.

• Climbing is a great way for kids to use both arms and legs in a reciprocal (or alternate) movement pattern.
• Pushing or pulling large objects like a wagon or box also requires use of both arms and legs and helps increase trunk strength.
• Funny animal walks such as bear walking, crab walking or seal walking can be a great way for children to move those arms and legs together.

It may be hard to decide how important crawling may or may not be, but in the end, it might be best to just look at the big picture.

As always, if you have any questions about this topic or concerns about your child’s development, we invite you to please contact the pediatric physical therapists at Los Gatos Orthopedic Sports Therapy/Kids’ Perspective Physical Therapy.

About the Author

Alison Nair, PT, MSPT has been a pediatric physical therapist since 2001 and has worked in a variety of areas including early intervention (0-3 years), outpatient clinic and inpatient hospital settings