The Crawling Debate: Is the Crawling Milestone Critical?

Kate Hannifan, MD

Many parents are excited for their babies to reach their crawling milestones and wonder when this will happen. Some worry that their child is not “on track” if they have not achieved a crawling milestone by a certain age. Although many babies crawl between 6 and 10 months of age, some never do – does this matter? Interestingly, there is a fair amount of controversy on this subject!

A Little Crawling History

In 1994 several national health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, began promoting the “Back to Sleep” campaign in order to reduce the incidence of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). The campaign was very successful, resulting in a greater than 50% reduction in the incidence of SIDS. 

However, as a result, babies began spending much more time on their backs than their stomachs. Some studies have suggested that this has resulted in babies/toddlers meeting motor milestones like crawling later (or skipping them altogether) because they lack upper body strength from lack of time spent on their stomachs.

A Medical Opinion

Most pediatricians and developmental pediatricians are not overly concerned if babies skip the crawling milestone as long as they are meeting other milestones as expected. In the short term, there is actually no evidence that babies who do not crawl will meet other motor milestones, like cruising and walking, any later than those who do crawl. Likewise, there is no evidence that babies who do not crawl will suffer any long-term developmental consequences.

On the other hand, many pediatric physical and occupational therapists have different viewpoints. They raise concerns that without crawling, babies will miss out on opportunities to build upper body strength and practice bilateral arm/leg coordination.

Tummy-Time is Crucial

Regardless of where pediatric practitioners fall on the crawling debate, we all agree on the importance of tummy time starting in early infancy. Many babies dislike this initially, but that is OK! They will become more tolerant as they spend more time in this position and build upper body and neck strength. 

As babies get older, it is important to continue to provide ample playtime on the floor. Many babies spend lots of time in swings, car seats, strollers, and activity centers like Exersaucers, which can inhibit them from learning and practicing gross motor skills like rolling, scooting, and crawling. Although you can’t force a baby to reach a crawling milestone, you can encourage them by having them try to chase after a ball, putting fun toys out of their reach and trying to get them to move toward them, or by getting on your hands and knees and playing chase with them!

Your Crawling Milestone Experts

As with anything, use your provider at The Youth Clinic as a trusted resource – if you are concerned about your baby, let us know! We will assess your baby’s/toddler’s developmental milestones at all of their well-care visits and will help you determine the next best steps if any concerns arise along the way.

About Dr. Kate Hannifan

Dr. Hannifan is Board Certified and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She loves getting to know her patients and their families and building a relationship with them over time. She thinks that pediatrics is great because patients tell her the best stories and the funniest things!

When she isn’t being entertained by her patients, Dr. Hannifan enjoys running, hiking with her dog Ollie, reading, cooking, traveling, and spending time with her friends and family.

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