Like most first-time parents, Wendy (not her real name) was thrilled when her son began walking steadily after he turned one. But unlike most babies, little Jake (not his real name) had skipped the whole crawling milestone and went straight to standing, and then to walking.
“I was so excited when he started walking,” says the stay-at-home mum. “In fact, I don’t remember him crawling much. That wasn’t a concern for me at that time. I thought the sooner he learnt to walk, the better.”
So it was a shock to Wendy when a therapist said Jake’s host of learning disabilities, including dyslexia, might have been linked to his lack of crawling.
She asked to remain anonymous when she spoke to Young Parents to protect her son’s privacy.
Wendy first suspected that “something wasn’t right” with Jake when he was in preschool. But she did not seek professional help then.
“He couldn’t master phonics, couldn’t read and couldn’t spell much. I was hoping he’d eventually mature and catch up with his peers – but he never did,” says Wendy, who has three other kids aged 11 years and nine, and 10 months old.
“Between Jake and his siblings, who went through the regular crawling to walking stages, there’s a vast difference in their development,” she says.
Yael Sasson, senior occupational therapist and director of Dynamics Therapy Centre, explains that the action of cross-crawling – moving the right arm with the left leg, followed by the left arm with the right leg – helps the child to develop bilateral coordination.
“The crawling movement also helps to strengthen his upper girdle, which is important for developing his fine motor skills, such as writing. Crawling also develops the muscles needed for good neck and postural control,” she says.
With crawling, your baby’s increased mobility also means he will be able to explore his surroundings more.
This helps to increase his learning experiences, adds Dr Chong Shang Chee, head of the Child Development Unit of University Children’s Medical Institute, at the National University Hospital.
Give him tummy time
At Dynamics, Yael works with kids who have developmental delays, such as coordination problems, visual-motor dysfunction and handwriting difficulties.
While they may not necessarily be less intelligent than their peers, these children often struggle with the school curriculum. This group would have typically skipped their crawling stages during babyhood, she adds.
In fact, one question Yael always asks parents when they first bring their child in for therapy is: “Did he crawl?”
“Parents put their babies on the backs to prevent cot death and suffocation,” she says. “When Baby doesn’t get enough tummy time, there’s no opportunity for him to learn to negate gravity and crawl.”
Yael recommends regular supervised tummy time for babies, even newborns. This gives them the opportunity to work the muscles needed for crawling.
“It can be as a little as 10 minutes a day, and then gradually increase it. I’m talking about supervised tummy time, not when your baby is sleeping,” Yael says.
But Dr Chong adds that parents need not be overly worried if their babies aren’t too enthusiastic about crawling. There are kids with normal development who didn’t get on all fours.
“Some babies prefer to bottom-shuffle – sit and shuffle along on their buttocks – and the next thing you know, they start pulling themselves up to stand and walk,” he says.
“Usually, parents should be reassured if the baby is alert, curious and wants to move around in other ways.”
According to Dr Chong, most babies start crawling when they are seven to 10 months old. They start to pull themselves up to stand by eight to nine months, and cruise along while holding on to furniture at about 10 to 12 months.
From a year onwards, they can usually walk. If your little one is not meeting these development milestones, you may want to visit a paediatrician to see if the delay is due to neurological problems, says Dr Chong.
Today, Jake goes for regular therapy sessions. Although his academic results have “improved marginally” with professional help, Wendy says he is still unable to catch up with his peers.
“Back then, I didn’t realise how important crawling is. I was so careful about not letting him crawl because I feared that he would pick up germs,” she says. “That was a mistake.”