Welcome to PART 1 of my 3-part series on crawling!
Today I am excited to explore with you how babies develop the ability to crawl.
Babies tend to begin scooting forward on their belly like a wiggly little lizard between about 8-9 months and then, on average, take their first official crawling “steps” on hands and knees with belly off the floor between 9-11 months of age.¹
Once they begin zipping around on their hands and knees, babies then continue to use crawling as their primary means of mobility for approximately 4-6 months until they transition to becoming independent walkers.² Though that may sound fairly straightforward, the preparation leading up to crawling begins long before baby ever takes those first victorious steps on hands and knees.
Motor milestones that often come before the advent of crawling include:
⇒Between 2-3 months old: Becoming comfortable in the prone (tummy down) position while lifting their head and smoothly turning it to both sides without bobbing up and down. This comes from time spent playing on their tummy (aka – tummy time!). Try out these tips for making tummy time easier for your baby, plus this idea for how to use an exercise ball to make tummy time not only easier but more fun for you and your baby.
⇒Between 2-4 months old: Being able to support their weight on their forearms while playing on their tummy. This can be practiced by taking the legs off a baby play table as well as by playing on an exercise ball or in front of a mirror.
⇒Between 4-6 months old: Being able to bear weight on their hands while pushing their entire chest off the floor.
⇒Also between 4-6 months old: Integrating the Asymmetric Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR). Don’t get scared off by all those weird, clinical words! The ATNR reflex is something you’ve likely seen babies demonstrate a hundred times without realizing what it was. ATNR is observed whenever baby lays on his back and his head is turned to one side. This causes the arm and leg on that same side to automatically straighten out while the arm and leg on the opposite side bend, bringing the hand behind the head in what is causally referred to as the “fencing pose”. (See below)
As baby learns to push his chest up off the floor during tummy time and turn his head to the left and to the right while doing so, this automatic ATNR reflex should begin to disappear (or “integrate”). It’s important to know that, in order for this reflex to integrate, babies need PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE playing on their tummy in the first 6 months of life! When babies do not integrate the ATNR reflex (which then persists into childhood) it can have some interesting impacts on later development, particularly as it relates to playing, reading, and learning.
⇒Between 6-7.5 months old: Being able to push their chest off the floor and then shift their weight to one hand while reaching out for a toy with the other. This becomes much easier for babies once the ATNR is integrated because it allows them to engage in play at the middle of the body (“midline”) while in the tummy-down position, which is a HUGE pre-requisite for crawling!
⇒Between 6-8 months old: Being able to lay on their tummy and bend one knee forward next to their trunk as they try to scoot forward. Again, this is so much easier to do when the ATNR is no longer responsible for “automatically” controlling movements because now baby can practice moving the arms, legs, and head separate from each other. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to scoot or crawl forward on your belly if, every time you turned your head one way, the arm and leg on that side of your body straightened out? Try it for yourself. Seriously challenging.
⇒Also between 6-8 months old: Demonstrating “protective extension” responses of the arms to the front and both sides. This means that, when baby is sitting and begins to lose balance forward or sideways, his arms shoot out to try and catch himself. I’ve referenced the development of this protective response before in my post on rolling a ball with your baby to promote development. That protective response is what allows baby to learn how to transition from an upright sitting position down to a hands-and-knees position, making him a “functional sitter” and giving him another skill in his arsenal of independent mobility tools.
⇒Between 6-9 months old: Demonstrating emergence of the Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR), which you can also refer to as the “crawling reflex”. STNR occurs when babies lift their head, causing their arms to straighten and push into the ground while also causing them to bend (flex) at the hips and knees so they can bear weight on their knees. You can see how this would be important for helping babies learn to crawl, right? This reflex also occurs in the opposite direction — when baby tucks his head down to his chin, his arms bend and his legs straighten out so it makes it look like he’s doing a Downward Dog pose.
STNR typically integrates (there’s that word again!) just before baby’s first birthday (around 11 months, once it’s no longer needed to help baby crawl). And, just like ATNR, an STNR that does not integrate on time can have some unexpected impacts on later development as it relates to playing and learning.
⇒Between 8-9 months old: Independently supporting their weight on hands and knees, known as the quadruped position. Babies often assume this position and then begin experimenting with rocking forward and back, side to side, and diagonally while staying in place, as if trying to wind themselves up to go for it and crawl. It’s so cute!
See what all that rocking and rolling looks like in the short video clip below (a couple weeks before baby started crawling). Keep in mind I filmed this video on my phone as a first time mom, and I definitely did not think I would be sharing it with lots of people (i.e., all of you lovely readers). This is basically part of my family home video collection, so enjoy!
⇒Between 8-9.5 months old: Getting a taste of tummy-based mobility by scooting forward a few feet on tummy by moving their arms and legs. Watch the early stages of this skill in the short video clip below (taken one month before baby started crawling for real). In my experience as a mom, both of my little ones figured out how to roll/scoot forward on their tummy a couple weeks before they fully learned how to push up on their hands and knees (even though it technically comes after assuming quadruped in the developmental timeline). Infant development isn’t always linear, and babies are often working on learning many skills all at once, so remember that all developmental timelines I’m sharing in this post are simply guides for what you may expect with a baby’s development, rather than hard and fast rules.
⇒Between a few days to a few weeks before crawling: Being able to shift their weight over to one hand while reaching out with the other, without dropping their belly to the floor. This typically occurs very shortly before a baby starts crawling. In fact, research has found that babies begin crawling once they have established a strong hand preference for which hand to move first (and fall forward onto) after time spent rocking and playing in the hands-and-knees position.³ Isn’t that interesting? Makes sense, though.
⇒And, finally, between 9-11 months old: Plummeting head first into real-deal, full blown CRAWLING on hands and knees! Of course, all babies develop on their own timeline, so this 9-11 month time frame is simply an average. Your own baby may crawl earlier or later depending on factors such as natural activity level, motor skills, strength, exposure to opportunities for practice, motivation, and overall developmental readiness. Or they may skip crawling altogether (why is this?). Watch the short video clip below of baby with a newfound source of mobility on his 3rd day of crawling!
Parents and caregivers get SO EXCITED when their baby learns to crawl, don’t they? You’ve probably seen all the pictures, videos, and proud status updates parents post on Facebook and Instagram as soon as their little one begins wreaking havoc around the house while maneuvering on all fours, right? (I’ve totally done it too, did you SEE my goo-goo-ga-ga-hooray-I’m-so-proud-of-you videos?)
Did you know that, when babies crawl, it is not only super exciting but also BENEFICIAL to their overall development?
Stay tuned for PART 2 of this 3-part crawling series where I explore and discuss the BENEFITS OF CRAWLING!
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1. Warshaw, S. (2007). HELP strands 0-3 [Curriculum Based Assessment]. Palo Alto, CA: VORT Corporation.
2. Franzsen, D. & Visser, M. (2010). The association of an omitted crawling milestone with pencil grasp and control in five- and six-year-old children. South African Journal of Occupational Therapy, 40(2), 19-23.
3. Goldfield, E. (1989). Transition from rocking to crawling: Postural constraints on infant movement. Developmental Psychology, 25(6), 913-919.
Developmental milestone information referenced from HELP Strands 0-3 Curriculum Based Assessment unless otherwise specified in post.