Babies reach many milestones as they grow older, but crawling is significant because it marks the first time a child moves independently from his or her parents. Crawling takes many forms and it may look awkward and unnatural at first. In addition to the standard crawl position, babies might learn to crawl sideways like a crab, they might scoot across the floor on their bottoms or they may crawl military-style across the floor, using only their upper body to move forward.
Steps Towards Crawling
Although not all babies learn to crawl in the same way, they all must reach the same point physically before they are capable of moving. Since crawling requires balance and strength, babies must develop these two components first. Somewhere between the time they are born and three months, babies start developing muscles in their head and neck, which give them control over these areas and facilitate movement. Once they've developed those muscles, babies will start to raise their heads off the ground and look horizontally. Parents can help children reach this point by putting them on their stomachs to play, which strengthens muscles in the back, shoulders and limbs. If babies object to being on their stomachs, parents can encourage play by putting a toy on the floor just out of the child's reach, or by lying down on the floor in front of the child to get his or her attention.
Muscle Strength and Movement
Between the ages of four and six months, babies develop enough balance and muscle strength to sit up independently. This is significant because it means the child can support his or her own weight. By this time the child has developed sufficient strength in the upper body, and the lower limbs follow shortly after. Motion is naturally the next step for babies after learning to sit independently, and it will happen through continued strengthening of the muscles.
Although babies start demonstrating strength by lifting their heads, they eventually develop enough muscle power to lift other parts of their bodies off the ground. Children may start lifting themselves off the ground with their arms, propping themselves up on their elbows or doing mini push-ups as their arm, shoulder and back muscles get stronger. After mastering that skill, babies will start rocking back and forth, simulating the movement of moving forwards and backwards. At this point, parents know their children have the muscle strength and coordination to start crawling. Parents should be aware that this is the time to start child-proofing the house, as babies move quickly once they become mobile and they will want to touch, taste and pick up objects in their path.
While babies learn to crawl at different times, parents should watch for several signs that may indicate a problem. If a baby does not start showing any signs of mobility by the time he or she reaches the age of one year, or if the child starts crawling only using one side of his or her body, parents should consult their pediatrician for an evaluation.