As a first-time parent, I was obsessed with tracking my son’s development. I compared Theo’s small successes to what I read in parenting books and on websites, or to what my friends’ kids were doing. I diligently ticked off the physical milestones: smiling, rolling over, reaching, sitting up. But that’s where Theo took a long pause.
At nine months, he would happily sit on a blanket and play with toys within his reach, without making a break for it, while I cooked or read. We praised him for being an easy baby. Then, one day, with his legs bent out in front of him like a little yogi, he scooted his bum forward. He did it again and again, moving in a straight line, with a little bounce as he picked up speed. At first, my husband and I were amused by Theo’s quirky method of locomotion. Then it just became normal. He would scoot to greet someone at the door, and bounce in his lotus pose across grass or pavement to get a ball or pat a dog.
According to Anne Rowan-Legg, a paediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa, most babies do crawl, and they usually start between seven to 10 months old. By the time Theo finally learned to walk at 18 months (which is on the late side), I was still itching to check “crawling” off the list of milestones. He skipped it altogether.
“I can understand why it’s stressful for parents, for sure,” says Rowan-Legg. But as long as your child’s gross motor skills—such as rolling over and sitting up—are being assessed by a nurse practitioner or doctor at regular well-baby visits, parents shouldn’t worry if their baby doesn't crawl. “Whichever mechanism they’re using to get around allows them to develop coordination and balance,” she says. “It allows a child to explore his environment and gain a sense of independence, and there are different ways of doing that.”
Those methods commonly include creeping or sliding on the tummy, and bottom shuffling—using the legs, and sometimes arms, to propel themselves in a seated position. The commando crawl (arms only) is another popular move. Some babies will even roll from one end of a room to another.
Nathalie Toriel, a mom in Toronto, says her son Milo, now almost three, had his own unique way of moving: the bear walk. He’d make his way from point A to point B with his feet and hands on the floor, and his rear end high in the air. At first, his unusual moves made her worry. “My fear was that if he skipped traditional crawling, would he miss out on the next stage, too?” says Toriel. Rowan-Legg reassures parents that this isn’t the case. “There’s no proven association between not crawling and learning difficulties or cognitive problems,” she adds. Surprisingly little data exists on what percentage of babies skip crawling. That may be because the stage is so varied in terms of style and duration. She also notes that in cultures where children are carried on their mothers’ backs for longer, it’s more common for babies to go straight to walking.
If you want to encourage your child to crawl, placing him on his stomach for a few minutes at a time can help develop arm strength. Sit in front of him or place a toy in his path to encourage him to move forward.
Toriel’s son Milo did not enjoy tummy time one bit. “He hated it. He’s always been a really happy-go-lucky little guy, and not a big crier, but tummy time was next to impossible.” Her younger son, six-month-old Casper, seems to like tummy time so far, and may turn out to be a crawler. Or maybe not. “I’ll just see how he develops and what he likes, and I won’t be worried this time, because Milo turned out happy and healthy, and I trust Casper will, too.”