Is Crawling Before Walking Really That Important?
When parents think about developmental milestones it’s no surprise that walking is the first milestone that comes to mind. Independent, efficient mobility is an integral part of life. Not only that but if you’ve followed us on Instagram (@rahoobaby) you’ve learned that mobility and cognition are a related, each facilitating each other’s growth. As baby’s become more motivated to move and interact with their environment, we often see a predictable pattern on movement: rolling – crawling – cruising – walking. To be clear though, movement doesn’t always follow a linear trajectory. In fact, for many years it was thought that babies absolutely needed to accomplish each milestone before moving onto the next, to the point where some therapists would actually prevent developmental progress through milestones until “earlier” milestones were met. This line of thinking is no longer the case though. So, if your baby or another baby in your life skipped crawling and went right to walking, don’t sweat it. That being said though, discussing the benefits of crawling is always fun so let’s do so. This is an interesting topic and makes for an especially interesting blog post because not only will you get insight from the pediatric OT’s at Rahoo Baby, we also got insight from a pediatric PT on the subject as well.
Dr. Brita DeStefano PT, DPT, PCS is a Denver based pediatric physical therapist who had this to say when we spoke broadly about the benefits of crawling:
“From day 1 a baby’s motor development is motivated by their desire to become
upright and mobile. Through each stage they are developing the muscle strength,
coordination, motor planning and balance to take them to the next level of being
able to engage with their environment and eventually leads to becoming mobile.
Most babies’ first method of mobility is crawling, which usually emerges between
The benefits of crawling cover a wide spectrum from gross motor to fine motor to
sensory. The coordination they build will help with walking, riding a bike and
more. It utilizes both sides of the brain and encourages them to work together
and form more connections. Crawling also allows a baby to begin taking risks and
making decisions while discovering the world around them. This allows them to
discover their own potential and their limitations and build self-confidence.
Crawling is an important step in development, yet not a mandatory one. Some
children will learn to walk without first crawling. However, I always tell parents
that the effects of crawling are so beneficial for babies and young children that I
still recommend practicing the skill even if it occurs after the child is already
walking. And I always remind them that it all starts with tummy time!”
All true! Let’s dig a little bit deeper though by discussing crawling from the perspective of pediatric OT's at Rahoo Baby:
For starters, as Brita mentioned above, crawling is actually great for both gross and fine motor development. The gross motor piece is self-explanatory, right? Crawling involves the whole body. But what about fine motor development? How does crawling help with this you may be wondering? Well, first and foremost, in order to gain control of the smaller, more refined movement-muscles of the hands, we need adequate strength (stability) of the larger muscles of our upper extremities and core – so what could be better for that you’re your baby basically holding a plank position every time they want to move (crawl). Not only that, but what’s fascinating is how crawling actually helps sculpt the arches of your baby’s hands. Take a second and look at the inside of your hands. Appreciate the creases across your palms and fingers, the gentle arch of the palm caused by the muscle bulk on the thumb and pinky side, and even the rounding of the pads of your fingertips. Crawling plays a huge role in the development of these “anatomical landmarks”. Functionally though (because that’s what we should care about) this is important because these features of the hand allow for effective manipulation of objects of all shapes and sizes that your baby will undoubtedly develop an appreciation for soon – spoons, balls, crayons, blocks etc.
And in terms of coordination, the list goes on, with topics that will be broken down into greater detail in future blog posts:
- It helps baby with reflex integration
- It helps baby master weight shifting (stability of one part of the body and mobility of another)
- It helps baby with integration of their visual system with their motor system - especially with regards to depth-perception. Think about it, when a baby reaches forward with an outstretched hand, they need to predict where that little hand is going to land, first by making sure there’s nothing in their way of their next foot-step hand-step. Which explains why is also helps baby develop…
- Body awareness and body schema, which refers to our understanding of where our body is within space, and how that changes as we move.
As you can see, the discussion around why crawling is important is a lengthy one. This blog is only scratching the surface. But for those of you reading this who may be concerned that your baby didn’t crawl or isn’t going to, I’ll say this: I’ve probably worked with around 1,500 children during my time as a pediatric OT. Two of the most coordinated kiddos I know – both outstanding baseball players about to start middle school – skipped crawling entirely when they were babies. I only mention this because it’s just an excellent reminder that while it’s important to be familiar with developmental milestones and how to work towards them with your baby, no two baby’s follow the same developmental progression. Developmental milestones are just a clean, general reference for a messy, complex process.
Want to learn how you can teach your baby to crawl? By signing up on our homepage you can receive free monthly emails from our team of pediatric therapists that match your baby’s age in months. Each email is designed to educate parents on what to expect developmentally over the next month, and help them play an active role in facilitating their baby’s development.
Matthew Breen is a pediatric occupational therapist who has only worked in pediatrics. Following his clinical placement as New Orleans Children’s Hospital he went on to work at Boston Children’s Hospital as well as Thom Boston Metro Early Intervention. Sparked by his passion for infant development, he went on to co-found Rahoo Baby, and develop their flag ship product – a newborn lounger – The Learn & Lounge. The Learn & Lounge, is the most versatile newborn lounger on the market and helps babies meet development milestones. It can be used as a newborn lounger, feeding support pillow and tummy-time trainer. Like all Rahoo Baby product being developed, The newborn lounger, Learn & Lounge is designed to prioritize safety and have a lasting impact on infant development.
Dr. Brita DeStefano PT, DPT, PCS is a Denver based pediatric physical therapist.Through her concierge mobile practice, Progress Through Play, she provides both in-home and virtual services for children ages birth to 5 years old. She is passionate about prevention and developmental wellness which includes demystifying development and educating families on their child’s milestones. Through 10 years of experience as an expert pediatric PT and mom of 2, she has learned first-hand that simplifying the process and making it fun will eliminate confusion and foster connection so that parents can keep their kids on track through early childhood and beyond.