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Your baby is growing up. They’ve moved on from rolling to sitting unaided and now they’re getting ready to crawl. Not all babies crawl in the same way and babies use many different crawling techniques to move around.

The technique we’re used to seeing and what we expect our babies to do is where their hands and knees are on the floor, and much of the forward movement effort is produced by bending and expanding the shoulders and hips.

Yet, they may also:

  • Classic hands-and-knees or reciprocal crawl: The baby holds weight on their hands and knees, and moves one arm and the opposite knee forward.
  • Bear crawl: It looks like the classic crawl except the infant keeps their knees straight, walking like a bear on hands and feet.
  • Belly or commando crawl: The baby pulls their body forward using their forearms dragging their belly along the floor
  • Crab crawl: The baby, moves backwards or sideways, propelling themselves with their hands.
  • The Leapfrog crawl: the baby comes up onto hands and knees or feet and then lunges forward in one big movement going down onto their tummy before coming back up and repeating.
  • The asymmetric crawl: this is where the baby crawls on both hands, but one knee and one foot. Commonly it is always the same leg that is up. This may be related to hip tightness.
Alternative ways of moving around include:
  • Bottom shuffling: The baby scoots on their bottom, sometimes using their arms to help propel themselves forward.
  • Rolling: The child achieves their destination by rolling from one place to the next.

Why reciprocal pattern crawling is important 

Classic hands and knees crawling moving opposite arm and leg is the ideal type of crawling. This is what as child development therapists we are aiming for. This style of crawling is beneficial for a large number of reasons;

It’s perfect strengthening practice for children. It strengthens the muscles of the arms and legs, along with the muscles of the back and stomach. The hip and shoulder girdle are developed, allowing for greater stabilisation at these joints. This position also helps build the arches of the hands. This is all important in the development of advanced skills later on such as handwriting.

Reciprocal crawling on hands and knees focuses on balance and coordination. Children have to move their weight and maintain their balance on one arm and leg while working together on the opposite arm and leg to propel the body forward. This involves a lot of motor planning, co-ordination and using both sides of the body and therefore brain together. Moving the opposite arm and leg forward involves dissociation of the extremities, thereby enhancing coordination.

Playing and moving on hands and knees helps children develop their spatial awareness. This is what helps us to learn where our body is in relation to the surrounding space. When a child develops this spatial awareness, they start to understand where they are in relation to different objects around them and become conscious when an object is moved or changed. This is important in later life for navigating obstacles like doorways successfully without bumping into them.

Crawling is often the first time a child has been able to explore their environment independently and enables them to learn crucial skills of independence, develops their understanding of the world including developing depth perception and vision.

Postural and movement skills needed for reciprocal crawling

Often taken for granted crawling is actually a complex combination of multiple advanced skills. It requires perfect co-ordination of all these elements to pull off the effortless efficient crawling we see in many babies. The more you think about it the more remarkable it is.

Babies need to have good shoulder and core stability and strength, excellent head control, the ability to use both sides of their body simultaneously whilst doing opposite movements. They also need to be able to balance on just one arm and leg, push up on their arms with their elbow straight whilst lifting their other arm off the floor when laying on their tummy.

They then need to be able to co-ordinate all these skills together and carry out multiple different movements simultaneously.

Why tummy time is the key to crawling success 

  • Exploration and experiences affect the earliest learning of a child
  • Floor time forms a major part in this development, free time to play on the floor without the restrictions of baby containers offers babies the opportunity to learn how their body moves and the consequences of their movements
  • Regular tummy time from birth is crucial to provide a basis for crawling skills. Whilst on their tummy, babies are working hard on developing the head and shoulder strength required for crawling.
  • A baby will need to be able to push up with straight arms with their bottom still down on the floor and then lift one arm to reach for a toy before they will be able to manage the hands and knees position needed for crawling.

Bottom shuffling babies 

Bottom shuffling is when a baby is sitting on the floor on their bottom and shuffles forward by moving their feet to move themselves forward. Sometimes a baby may use one hand to help push themselves along or sometimes the baby will hold both arms in the air and use their legs to pull them around.

While it is not thought to hinder transition to walking, it can be troublesome for a few reasons, but mainly it restricts the possibilities of building strength in the arms and abdominal muscles. It’s this strength and stability that is developed through hands and knees reciprocal crawling that is so beneficial for future skills like throwing and catching a ball, using scissors and writing.

How to help your baby to crawl 

  • Encourage tummy time while your child is awake.
  • Tummy Time Mats are a perfect way to make the activity fun.
  • Place a favourite toy or yourself a few feet way to inspire forward movement.
  • Play and crawl with your child, encouraging them to follow, get other kids involved too.
  • When they start moving forward, encourage them to crawl on various surfaces and even over a pillow or your legs.
  • Tunnels are great for encouraging crawling through.

Another fun way to get kids crawling is using things in your house to create an obstacle course. Make sure you child has lots of free play time on the floor out of any containers

If you’re worried about your child’s movement technique

If you’re worried about your baby, then it’s always a good idea to have them checked out by an experienced child development physiotherapist (PT) or occupational therapist (OT).

The physiotherapist or OT will evaluate your baby and decide whether there is an underlying cause for their bottom shuffling or altered crawling pattern, and provide you with some techniques, exercises and advice to help teach your baby how to crawl differently.

If you’re looking for further advice, check out our content on baby development.