Will the way my baby crawls have an effect on her development?

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Occupational therapist, Kerry Wallace, responds: 

There are essential building blocks in a baby’s development that pave the way for higher-level functions. For example, research has shown that tummy time is important for developing back muscles, rolling is important for balance reactions, and bearing weight on the hips and shoulders in the crawling position is important for being able to sit upright at a table and for later fine motor development.

Crawling is also a way for your baby to explore her environment, which is vital for thinking and motor planning as it develops an awareness of the body in space. Bear in mind that there is a wide diversity in the range of ways to move. How your baby figures out to get from the end of the room to your arms requires intentionality, problem solving, and using motor capacities at her disposal ranges from leopard crawling, bear walking, crawling with one leg out, reciprocal (or traditional) crawling and shuffling on the bottom. The advantage of the latter is that your baby has her hands free to carry things.

A baby who skips the crawling stage completely needs to be watched for other signs of developmental issues. When should you be concerned? If your placid eight-month-old contentedly sits on her play mat and doesn’t show any inclination to explore there could be a problem. The same goes for your baby getting frustrated in her efforts to get what she wants, over-depending on adults to read her signals and meet her needs.

If she resists tummy time, preferring the safety and comfort of her car seat for most of the day, which then prevents her from exercising her back, neck and tummy muscles you can get on the floor with her at eye level up on to straight arms, and entice her to reach for your face, roll towards you or begin to pull with her arms. The walking ring, although convenient for parents, needs to be used judiciously because it robs babies of the opportunity to explore the world with their bodies.

Difficulty orchestrating basic motor planning sequences, such as rolling into a sitting position or going from crawling to standing and walking, have been reported in some children later diagnosed with developmental issues. “Bum–shuffling” runs in families and shufflers do often walk late.

If you are concerned ask your paediatrician or clinic sister to refer you to a physiotherapist trained in neuro developmental therapy. The chances are that you will be reassured that your bum shuffler is just exploring different ways of moving.

Each child is an individual with their own individual genetic profile, but depends on the adults and the environment they have access to when they are at the stage of exploring moving and getting around.

Enjoy this time and your baby’s unique way of being who she is, supporting her in her achievement of each step on the way in her desire to explore the world around her.

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