How important is crawling to your baby’s physical and cognitive development?

Posted on 5 July 2018

It’s their first taste of independence and mobility and one of the more exciting milestones your baby will achieve. But crawling is also a very important milestone in terms of cognitive and physical development.

Crawling helps your baby develop physically (by using the muscles of their head, neck, shoulders, arms, legs and back), visual-spatially (seeing you move away or towards them) and cognitively (making decisions to move or stay).

When will my baby start crawling?

Babies usually start to crawl between six and 10 months of age. While some learn this skill as early as six months, others can get there a bit later. Your baby may start with a bum shuffle or even start crawling in reverse at first. This is all normal.

When should I worry?

All babies develop in their own time. “There is, however, some concern that delayed crawling may be an indication of reduced upper limb muscle tone, in an otherwise healthy baby,” says Dr Naranbhai, a paediatrician at Mediclinic Victoria.

Have a chat with your paediatrician if:

  • Your baby shows no interest in moving at all.
  • He/she hasn’t worked out how to use her arms and legs in coordination
  • They can’t use both arms and legs equally

How can I help encourage crawling?

There are a number of ways to encourage your baby to start crawling:

Give them lots of space to encourage movement – this is a good time to baby-proof your home. Make sure they get a lot of tummy time. This encourages the muscles in their neck, shoulders, arms, back and torso to develop. During tummy time, put some favourite toys just out of your baby’s reach so he/she moves towards them.

What if my baby skips crawling and goes straight to walking?

This is completely normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern, says Dr Naranbhai. “They proceed to standing with support, cruising and walking. If the latter milestones are present at their appropriate times, there should be no concern.” Failure to crawl is not necessarily an indication of any disease or problem. But if there are other developmental delays, take your baby for an assessment.

“Parental stimulation and gentle encouragement towards independent walking are essential in all infants, but more so if the baby has skipped the crawling stage,” Dr Naranbhai adds.

Does crawling have any impact on cognitive abilities later in life?

There have been some studies that suggest crawling could have an impact on future cognitive development. One study published in the American Academy of Paediatrics examined the link between the age between achieving major motor milestones and a child’s development. It suggests that children who reach certain gross motor skills early will perform better at school.

But the study has not been conclusive and “is only exploratory and descriptive”, says Robert Pianta, dean of the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, who was interviewed by CNN. Dr Naranbhai adds “There are no studies that clearly link the failure of crawling to any failure or success in learning, in later life.”


In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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