Will any crawling style do?

By Dr Melodie de Jager and Cozette Laubser


Crawling (on all-fours) is a powerful BRAIN-BOOSTING milestone. Crawling on all fours requires incredible strength, balance and coordination. In fact, crawling requires a lot more skill and endurance than walking does. That is perhaps why some babies prefer to attempt an easier altered version of the all-fours crawling position, or why they skip crawling altogether.

Crawling is often discouraged with remarks like:
 “I didn’t crawl as a baby, and there is nothing wrong with me!” or “Why is it so essential for a baby to crawl? Isn’t bear-walking or bum shuffling the same as crawling?”, or even “My baby does things her way, her crawling style is an expression of her personality”.
This article aims to share the complexity and shear brilliance of the crawling milestone. We will manoeuvre through benefits of crawling, so called 'crawling styles', and most importantly- helpful tips to get your little one crawling in no time!

Why is crawling such a ‘wow’ milestone?
When crawling on all-fours a baby needs to coordinate six points of contact (two hands, two knees, and two feet) with his budding muscle strength, balance centers, and his (adjusting) visual perception. All of this while simultaneously figuring out how to move forward. Never-mind navigating around furniture and objects!

The complexity of learning to crawl makes a walking ring look attractive, especially if your baby protests with loud moans and groans, but resist the urge to interfere! Excellent brain development lies in baby’s struggle to get it right.

Crawling engages baby’s whole body:
• When baby pushes up off the floor to get into the all-fours position he is not only developing muscle tone (opposing the pull of gravity), but he is also strengthening his core, shoulder girdle, arm, leg, and smaller hand muscles.

• Crawling along a variety of surfaces like carpets, tiles, wooden floors, grass, sand and paving provides baby’s skin and brain with wonderful tactile experiences and input.

• Crawling expands baby’s personal space as he can now move from a restricted space to initiate contact with mom or dad.

• While in the all-fours position baby holds his wrists in an extended position, bearing weight on the hands. This position opens up the hands and develops the arches, strength and tone of the hand which makes fine motor control (like self-feeding, getting dressed, holding a crayon and cutting on a line) possible in later years.

• Crawling is a wonderful workout for baby’s eyes. He develops his vision when he looks in various directions whilst maintaining his balance and crossing the midline. This skill-combo is a prerequisite for reading, writing and spelling in later years.

• Tummy time and the correct crawling posture also helps the spine to change from the in-utero c-shape to the ideal s-shape needed for a beautiful upright posture once baby starts walking.

• Crawling develops baby’s body map. Baby’s ability to move without looking at the part that he is moving is important for all school work and sport later. Imagine a golf player who needs to look at his hands rather than the ball, or a pianist who needs to look at her hands rather than the sheet music.

• Crawling necessitates the all important 'crossing of the midline'. Crossing the midline integrates  and facilitates communication between the left and right sides of the brain.

“Crawling styles”
There is only one crawling style that holds all the brain and body boosting advantages Pediatricians and Developmental Specialist refer to, and that is crawling on all-fours. This position is also known as 'The Classic Crawl'. Classic crawling  means baby is able to push her body off the ground, resume the all-fours position, and propel herself forwards on hands and knees in a coordinated and controlled way.

Here are some positions that are often erroneously referred to as ''crawling':
Commando crawling:
Baby puts his elbows on the floor, keeping his legs flat, and drags himself forward as though under ‘enemy fire’. Dad’s will call this ‘leopard crawling’.

Crab-crawling:
Tucking one knee in and extending the other, baby manoeuvres himself sideways.
Bear-walking:
Instead of bending his elbows and knees, baby keeps his arms and legs straight, moving along like a bear on the prowl.
Swimming:
Baby keeps her stomach flat on the floor and propels herself forward, while knees and arms move as if she is imitating a swimmer.
Bum-shuffling:
This is where baby remains in a seated position on his bottom and propels himself forward in jerky, jumpy steps by extending and then folding his legs.

My baby is not crawling on all-fours. What now?
Do not worry, baby is nearly there! Backtrack and make sure your baby has mastered all the skills that build up to a posture perfect crawl:
• Tummy time
• Rolling to both the left and the right side
• Unsupported sitting, and
• Knee standing

BabyGym® steps to boost crawling
• Whilst lying on the tummy, place a toy or a treat just slightly out of reach so that baby needs to push up and reach for it. Tummy time strengthens the muscles needed for a strong crawl.
• Whilst lying on the back, push baby’s legs up towards the chest and simulate a cycling action. Keep baby’s ankles, knees and eyes in a straight line. This move simulates the crawling action.
• Use a towel nappy and lift baby off the ground into the all-fours position. Gently sway baby forwards and backwards to simulate the rocking motion while baby firmly supports herself on her hands and knees.

BabyGym Instructors are baby milestone masters! Contact an Instructor near you to get your baby moving and crawling: https://www.babygym.co.za/instructor_list/
De Jager, M. 2009. BabyGym. Welgemoed: Metz Press.
De Jager, M. 2011. Brain development MILESTONES & learning. Johannesburg: Mind Moves Institute.