Crawling is more than just the ability for babies to explore their surroundings. It’s a milestone that helps develop the muscles and control that are important later in life. It’s also a perfect time for parents to make sure baby’s surroundings are safe for that new freedom.
Stefani Hines, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Beaumont Hospitals in Oakland County, says there is a broad timeframe in which babies begin crawling. Most start between 8 or 9 months, but it could be as early as 6 months or as late as 1 year.
The biggest reason babies crawl later: lack of time on their tummies.
"A lot of these kids do not like being on their bellies," Hines says. "When that happens, they tend not to do all the things we think of kids doing on their bellies." She recommends more time on tummies for babies while they are awake. But Hines reminds parents not to place children on their stomachs to sleep.
The early tummy time lays the groundwork for developing upper extremity strength.
Helping baby along
To promote the development of upper body strength and crawling, allow babies to spend time on their bellies, exploring their space and playing. Infant products like jumpers and walkers do not promote mobility in the hips or upper body strength, Hines says. While they can be used in short increments, they should be limited – and shouldn’t replace tummy time.
Hines adds that some kids will scoot or roll instead. Even if kids don’t seem interested in crawling, they should be given the opportunity, through tummy time, to develop the upper body strength and coordination.
Pediatricians also can work with parents to make sure babies are meeting all of the important milestones, Hines says – including crawling. Parents shouldn’t be concerned if their pediatrician refers them to a physical therapist. The therapists will work with the parents to promote good movement patterns and help their child develop.
With a child’s newfound independence comes the ability for her to get into more. Crawling is a good time for parents to make sure their house is ready.
"The best time to start child proofing your home would be before your child starts to crawl. Don’t wait until they could be in danger," says Kaycie Armstrong, who has professionally helped new parents in the southeast Michigan area prepare for their babies.
Parents should get down and crawl around their house to look for hidden dangers, Armstrong says. "As your child grows and hits new milestones, new child proofing will be necessary," she notes. "It is important to get the bulk of it done before your child crawls and add on as your child grows."
Armstrong recommends parents check certain areas of their house, including:
- Water temperature: Make sure water heater temperature is set to 120 degrees F. This eliminates the chance of kids burning themselves with hot water.
- Stairs: These are a huge safety hazard. Pressure-mounted gates are not safe to use for the top of the stairs. Use a gate specifically made for the top of the stairs – and mounts onto the wall.
- Furniture: Anchor tall pieces to the wall. As kids start to climb, the potential for them to tip over a piece of furniture onto themselves increases.
- Crib: Lower cribs to the lowest setting when children begin to get on their hands and knees. It won’t be long before they’re pulling up on the side of their crib.
And it’s just not enough to put dangerous items out of baby’s reach.
"Children are inventive and oftentimes will find ways into and around things. The best idea is to place hazardous items up in cabinets with locks on your cabinet doors," Armstrong says. "Going through each area of your home, garage and outside areas thoroughly – while using proper safety products and eliminating all hidden and obvious dangers – will lead to a safe environment for your child."