From the moment he was born, your baby has been working towards the day when he can move his own body weight to where he wants to be and start crawling. And once he masters it, life will never be the same again!
‘It’s a big milestone because this is the moment when your baby starts to be able to explore his world independently,’ says Sally Goddard Blythe, International Director of the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology. You’ll learn all sorts of things about his personality and his preferences once he’s in charge of where he’s going. ‘And that exploration kick-starts all sorts of developmental milestones, from improving his spatial awareness to problem-solving,’ adds Sally.
While babies learn to crawl – or bum-shuffle or belly crawl – in his own time, there are all sorts of things you can do to encourage crawling in his journey to mastering the independent movement. By playing games and doing activities that target the skills and strengths he’ll draw on to be able to crawl, you’ll support his development, and have loads of fun together while you’re at it!
How to help your baby crawl
Let it happen!
Your baby has been working towards independent movement from the moment he was born. And his brain and body know exactly what to do. So while there are lots you can do to support his journey, it’s important that you’re a passenger along for the ride, and not sitting in the driving seat!
You’ll witness a lot of behaviour that might, on the surface, seem like your baby is trying to crawl but can’t. But it’s all a vital part of the journey. ‘Babies are born with a set of primitive reflexes – or instinctive reactions,’ says Sally. ‘These are hard-wired into their brains. But over the first months of your baby’s life, as he matures and gains experiences in the world, the neural pathways in his brain develop and over-ride these primitive reflexes, allowing his movements to become more controlled. So, during his first year, he progresses from involuntary responses to purposeful movements.’
And that’s a process that needs to happen. For example, one of these reflexes is called the Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex. And you might see it in action when your baby first gets up onto his hands and knees in a crawling position. ‘In this position, if your baby’s head and neck is flexed,’ says Sally. ‘In response, the reflex prompts your baby to flex his arms and legs – which makes crawling impossible! So, at this point, many babies will start to rock on their hands and knees. And this movement helps to inhibit the reflex so that your baby can look down without needing to bend his arms.’ Clever huh? If his brain doesn’t over-ride this primitive reflex, a baby might start to bunny hop – moving his arms first, and then bringing his legs forwards – or bum-shuffle, scooting along on his bottom.
So, the most important thing you can do to help your youngster learn to crawl is to let him master it at his own speed. ‘Give him lots of opportunity for movement and encourage him to crawl, but never push him to do something he isn’t ready to do,’ says Sally. ‘Babies are born with an innate drive to make these movements and build up these skills, but they each do it in their own time. So, give your baby space and opportunity to move when he’s awake and alert, and let him rest when he’s tired!’
Do tummy time
‘When your baby lies on his tummy, he starts trying to lift his head, which builds his neck and upper trunk strength and feeds into the development of head control. And head control is vital for the development of other muscle groups that are essential to later posture, balance, coordination – and even to the eye movements older children need when they read and write.’
So don’t stop with the tummy time just because he’s learnt how to sit up. ‘Once your baby has the strength to raise his head in this position, he can start to bring his arms in under his body to prop himself up and, eventually, to push himself up, learn to roll over and move towards crawling,’ says Sally. Of course he might roll over or move into a sitting position after you’ve laid him on his tummy, and that’s fine – every movement will increase his head control, coordination between the two halves of his body and muscle tone!
‘Babies learn about their bodies through being touched as well as using them,’ says Sally. ‘Baby massage is a gentle way to help your baby start to gain a “mental map” of where his body begins and ends.’
Blow raspberry kisses
Touch your baby’s foot, give him a smile and say ‘foot’. Then blow a soft raspberry on his foot. Touch his ankle, give him a smile and say ‘ankle’. Then blow a soft raspberry on his ankle. This helps to teach your baby about his body through sound and touch. As he gets older, he’ll start to anticipate the raspberry kiss and the giggling will start…!
Cycle his legs
When he’s lying on his back, gently cycle your tot’s legs as though he was riding a bicycle. ‘This fun way to connect with your baby introduces him to the idea of alternating motion,’ says Sally. ‘You’re teaching him that his legs can work independently – one after the other – as they will do when he eventually crawls.’
Sing a body song
Touch your baby on his hands, feet and tummy as you sing this song, then give him a hug at the end!
‘These are baby’s hands
And these are baby’s feet.
This is baby’s tummy –
Isn’t baby sweet!’
Keep him close
‘In the early weeks, your baby will start to respond to motion and start developing his sense of balance when he’s being held by you,’ says Sally. ‘Being close to you makes him feel secure and confident – and just carrying him in your arms means that he’s learning from your movements and adjusting to the different positions of your body.’
Let him kick
Rather than always positioning your baby in his gym so he can reach for the hanging toys, slide him up so he can kick at them, too. ‘When your baby lies on his back, it’s easy for him to kick and move his hips and pelvis,’ says Sally, ‘and this builds the strength, stability and coordination in his lower body.’
Surf on a ball
Hold your baby securely while he lies on his front on top of a gym ball, or birthing ball. Then carefully move the ball a little. And while you need to make sure you’re holding him very securely, make sure his weight is on the ball so he uses his muscles to stay in balance.
Once your tot can sit up and has good head control, make visiting the baby swings at the park a regular treat. And aim for smooth, gentle motion at this early point. Your baby will continually adjust his body to even the smallest of motions. ‘And this helps to stimulate your baby’s balance mechanism, which responds to slow and gentle forward and backwards, side to side and tilting movements of his head, body or environment,’ says Sally. Slow-motion tends to be soothing, while rapid motion is arousing, so be sensitive to your baby's reactions and do not over-stimulate.
Real mum tips
‘Martha and Elijah were slow to pick up crawling – they didn’t start till they were 13 months. That was great for me because it meant that for the entire first year they stayed wherever I put them down! But Samuel has been entirely different: he rolled around everywhere from 5 months and commando crawled from 8 months. And now he’s so quick!’ - Sian Pugh is mum to Martha, Elijah and Samuel.
‘What really got my two children interested in crawling was taking them along to lots of baby classes. They’d watch the slightly older children and try to copy what they were doing – including crawling.’ - Laura Bland is mum to Alicia and Matilda.
‘My babies were motivated by having someone to follow. My eldest, Jessica, bottom shuffled after our German Shepherd, and then my two youngest crawled after her!’ - Elizabeth Dance, 40, from Cardiff, is mum to Jessica, Sophie and Lucy
Best products to help your little one to crawl
To help your tot on their way, we’ve picked our favourite toys that your baby will love to chase and play with.