Crawling: The Neurological Benefits of This Toddler Milestone

Parenting has many challenges – but thankfully, so many more rewards! The first few months with your little one can be completely unpredictable. Your days and nights are turned upside down. Your goal is simply survival – finding rest when you can, feeding on demand, and (hopefully) catching a shower now and then – but probably not washing your hair 😉

Baby beginning to push up on hands.

Crawling is one of the first activities that requires both brain hemispheres to work together.

Just as you begin to settle into a routine and think, “I’ve got this!”, the tides begin to change. You never realized how good you had it. You could lay baby down on a nearby playmat and watch as you grab a quick bite or fold the massive piles of laundry surrounding you. Those days are now gone. Your sweet little one. Has. Started. Moving!

Primitive Reflexes + Development

It’s so amazing when you think about it – how your child naturally learns to move on his/her own. In fact, if you really want to geek out on some science (who doesn’t??), your baby is born with what’s called primitive reflexes. Primitive reflexes are automatic, stereotyped movements directed from the brain stem and executed without cortical involvement – translation: the higher brain centers that control more complex movement, processing, etc., are not involved with primitive reflexes. These reflexes have a limited lifespan and as your child develops, they should be inhibited or disappear as more sophisticated neural structures develop within the higher centers of the brain.

What happens if they don’t disappear? Great question! 🙂 Primitive reflexes should disappear around 6 to 12 months. If not, there will be immaturity or structural weakness in the CNS (brain and spinal cord). This will prevent the development of postural reflexes that are needed for the child to interact effectively with their environment – and thus, affect their ability to perform movements like crawling. Research is showing a higher correlation between short or no crawling phases and children with sensory processing disorder and autism spectrum disorder1.

When should my baby show signs of readiness?

Crawling plays a large role in neurological development. It’s one of the first activities that involves both the left and right hemispheres of the brain via the corpus callosum. Around 6 to 9 months, baby should begin to scoot on belly. As this is repeated, baby gains enough strength to then get up on hands and knees. Rocking in place helps to strengthen and support their balance. The crawling movement then develops around 7 to 11 months. Crawling will become the primary means of mobility for 4 to 6 months, until transition to independent walking occurs.

Daily activities that help your baby learn to crawl

Baby on belly lifting head up to look at dog.

Tummy time helps baby to develop strength in neck muscles for support of head.

The communication between both hemispheres of the brain that occurs during crawling has many benefits. It helps establish better learning patterns, visual tracking (ie reading), and various other skills needed later in life, like getting dressed. As a parent or caregiver, you can help encourage this natural progression in several ways:

  1. Tummy time helps to develop the neck muscles needed to hold the head upright. Place a mirror or fairly flat toy in front of your little one for entertainment. Taking the legs off of an activity is another option. You can also place a toy on a couch, so your little one has to raise head up to see it. Slowly increase the amount of time baby spends on his/her belly to allow neck muscles to adapt.
  2. Once baby is able to get up on his/her hands and knees, playing music to encourage slight rocking will help increase balance and control. Get down on your hands and knees so your little one can watch and mimic your movements.
  3. Once balance and control are well established, place a favorite toy slightly out of reach to encourage your little one to move toward it. Toys that move on their own may also be helpful.

Trust your instinct as a parent

As always, every child develops independently and at their own pace. There are many factors that will affect development and meeting milestones. That being said, your gut instinct as a parent is worth addressing. You know your child better than anyone else. If you have a concern, it’s worth having a conversation to find an answer that provides insight and reassurance.

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