Mike-Marinus1By Dr Mike Marinus, dad to Megan and James plus a Chiropractor in Blairgowrie with a special interest in family practice and paediatric care. Click here to hear  his podcast. This is the 9th in our series on babies by Dr Marinus. Find his other articles here.

Somewhere between 6 and 8 months, babies become hugely curious about the world around them. So curious, in fact, that it spurs them on to move by themselves to explore it. Before this incredible leap babies are just passengers, little Uber clients along for the ride but now their brains have to start doing some pretty impressive calculations about body movement, positioning and remember where they are, where they are going and where they have been.  

This starts as a leopard crawl on their belly and progresses, with time, to an all fours position where they will rock back and forth for a while with a brief stint of moving backwards which is normal (because the upper body is stronger than the lower body at this stage). Then around 9 to 10 months they should be off like a shot in the crisscross opposite hand opposite knee classic crawl. Each of these stages are important as they mold and shape the nervous system in different ways.

Since we started putting children to sleep on their backs in the 1990’s, there has been a definite trend for kiddies to hit this milestone late or even not at all. I feel the ‘back to sleep’ campaign is partly to blame for this as it does keep them off their tummy’s and so they spend less time developing tone in their crawling muscles but I also believe that our overuse of car seats (when not in a car), high chairs, walking rings and carriers are just as much to blame.

Crawling strengthens the trunk, shoulder, hands and core muscles. It connects them together and gives them patterning they will use later in their fine motor skills. It also forms the foundation of healthy spinal curves that baby will depend on for weight bearing during walking…but it’s not all just physical. The repetitive nature of crawling activates nerve cells in the brain that create pathways which deliver feedback to the brain about how the body is functioning. Crawling develops these pathways in the brain and in turn the brain becomes more able to control the arms and legs. It is also the first time your baby’s vision, balance (inner ear) and proprioceptive (knowing where your joints are in space) centers have to work together as a team to allow for faster and more controlled movement. If this happens well during crawling, it is one less thing your child will have to deal with later in life when it comes to co-ordination, balance and dexterity. The more crawling they do, they more connections they create.

crawling baby

So what if they don’t crawl? One school of thought says that it doesn’t matter how babies move around, it’s more important that they have the drive to do it. My problem with this is not that they don’t crisscross crawl but rather “why can’t they?” Is there something functional that is stopping them from being able to crawl? On the other side Occupational Therapists say that the data shows that not all kids who don’t crawl have issues but the kids they see with integration issues didn’t crawl.

My theory lies in between these two. Anthropologists think that crawling is a relatively new human activity… so could it be an evolutionary tool we have developed in order to more rapidly co-ordinate and integrate our senses to be able to deal with the ever increasing requirements of our fast paced technology heavy environment?

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