As a parent, it's completely normal to be anxious for your baby to crawl. After all, it's the beginning of their independent mobility! Understanding baby crawling is comforting and provides reassurance that your baby's development is on track.
This article will not only discuss when babies start crawling but also offer helpful tips to encourage them to develop these skills.
In this article:
When do babies start crawling?
Typical ages for crawling
The majority of babies start crawling between 7 and 10 months old. According to the World Health Organization, 50% of babies crawl by 8.3 months. However, it's not unusual to crawl earlier or later. Some babies skip crawling altogether.
Developmental milestones are tasks or skills that most children can do by a certain age. Generally, children achieve developmental milestones in a set pattern: for example, they crawl, then stand, then walk. Monitoring milestones is a way of tracking a child's development and making sure that they are progressing neurotypically.
As of 2022, crawling is no longer included as a milestone by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) because the CDC determined that it did not have sufficient evidence of the age by which 75% of babies begin to crawl.
Crawling remains an important skill and a great indicator that a baby is developing typically.
Signs that your baby is getting ready to crawl
Some common signs that your baby is preparing to crawl include the following. Just remember that every baby learns to crawl in their own way and on their own timeline, so your baby may not show all of these signs as they progress toward crawling.
Head control: Your baby holds their head up and keeps it steady while lying on their tummy and sitting. They are building strength and control in their arm and neck muscles.
Rolling: Your baby can roll from their tummy to their back and their back to their tummy.
Pivoting on tummy: Your baby may turn in circles while on their tummy. They are learning how to move their body from one place to another!
Pushing up on hands and knees: When they are lying on their tummy, your baby can get into the crawling position.
Rocking back and forth on hands and knees: Your baby is developing the muscles that they will need to crawl.
Curiosity about their environment: Your baby shows interest in their surroundings and reaches for objects that they can see but not reach.
Scooching or pushing forward or backward when on their tummy: Your baby is exploring different ways they can move.
Getting into a sitting position: Your baby can transition from lying on their tummy into a sitting position. When babies sit, they are developing their core strength and coordination.
Supporting weight through legs: When you hold your baby upright, they push through their legs onto the surface and can bear some weight. This shows that their leg muscles are getting stronger.
Different styles of crawling
The classic crawl
In classic crawling, a baby moves forward on their hands and knees with each opposite arm and leg moving together--right arm/left leg forward, then left arm/right leg forward. This is also called "reciprocal crawling" or "creeping."
From a developmental standpoint, a baby is considered to have mastered "crawling" when they engage in this classic hands and knees style. For purposes of this article, when we discuss "crawling," we are referring to classic crawling.
Alternatives to classic crawling
Babies also move around in a variety of other ways. A baby may experiment with multiple different crawling styles during their crawling journey. Many babies use them as an intermediate step towards classic crawling. Others skip alternative crawling styles and go straight into classic crawling.
Although these other crawling styles are not considered true "crawling" for developmental purposes, they are still important and should be celebrated! They show that a baby is developing gross motor skills and coordination and is exploring their mobility.
Some common alternative crawling styles include:
1. Belly crawl (also called "commando crawl" or "army crawl")
Belly-crawling babies propel themselves forward with their arms while remaining on their belly. They may alternate arms or use both arms together to pull themselves forward and then belly flop onto the ground.
Sometimes babies may push with one or both legs off to the side or behind them in a plank-like position, but their belly will mostly remain on the floor.
Some babies will belly crawl before they learn the classic crawl, but others skip this style altogether.
2. Bear crawl
In this style of crawling, the baby moves forward on their hands and feet while keeping their legs mostly straight. Their knees never touch the ground.
Sometimes babies go through a bear crawling phase after they learn to classic crawl because they are figuring out how to stand upright. This is completely normal!
3. Crab crawl (also called “hitch crawl”)
The baby begins on their hands and knees, then settles their weight to one side and uses the opposite bent leg to propel themselves, using both arms for balance and control.
In a typical crab crawl, the baby will switch legs to go in different directions--they may even do a sideways or backward crawl, like a crab!
4. Bottom scooch
While sitting upright, the baby pulls and pushes with their arms to move in different directions. They might also push with one or two legs while remaining in a seated position.
5. Rolling crawl
This is not really a type of crawling, but is an early way for babies to get where they want to go!
Why crawling is important
The benefits of crawling
Even though it is no longer included as a milestone by the CDC, the crawling stage is still very important for your child's development. Ways that crawling helps your child develop include:
1. Motor development
Crawling is an important step in building your baby's gross motor skills. It strengthens their arm, leg, and core muscles and helps them develop the necessary skills to sit, stand, and eventually walk on their own.
Crawling develops a baby's fine motor skills as well. The crawling position helps to stretch and strengthen a baby's fingers, preparing them to use utensils, draw, and write. Crawling also develops their hand strength and shoulder stability, which will allow them to feed themselves.
2. Brain development
Crawling helps children develop bilateral coordination, the ability to coordinate both sides of the body in a deliberate way. Good bilateral coordination indicates that both sides of the child's brain are working together.
Children who don't crawl may later struggle with daily tasks that require bilateral coordination, such as tying shoes, getting dressed, or holding a paper steady while writing.
Crawling also helps babies develop problem solving skills, such as figuring out how to move around and access items that they want.
3. Sensory learning
Crawling plays a crucial role in a baby's sensory development because it helps babies learn about their environment through multiple senses. As they move across different surfaces (such as carpet, tile, and grass), babies are exposed to different textures. They also hear the sounds of their surroundings and even smell new scents.
This sensory feedback plays a significant role in their cognitive development, helping them to better understand the world around them.
More generally, crawling opens up a new world. Once a baby starts crawling, they have more freedom to explore during play. This mobility helps them learn more about their world, from discovering the spatial relationships between objects to initiating interactions with people.
What if your baby doesn't crawl?
Some children are slow to learn to crawl. In most cases, this is not the result of any physical issue. Reasons why a baby might be slow to crawl include:
Premature babies may crawl later because they have to catch up developmentally.
A larger, heavier baby may crawl later because they need more strength to move their body weight.
Some babies are just more interested in developing other skills, such as exploring objects through touch.
Approximately 7% of babies skip the classic crawling stage altogether. Although it's possible for a child to skip crawling and go on to develop normally, there are many physical, cognitive, and sensory benefits to crawling--as we discussed above--so this skill shouldn't be discounted.
Some babies who skip crawling may have slower motor development and also walk later. However, other babies will meet their other motor milestones, such as pulling to stand, and walk on schedule.
If you are worried because your baby isn't crawling yet, it's always appropriate to discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider.
And remember that it's never too late to learn! Children can practice crawling and reap the benefits even if they have already started walking.
Tips to encourage your baby to crawl
1. Encourage tummy time
Tummy time is critical for babies' development and lays the foundation for crawling by strengthening crucial muscles.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), infants should begin engaging in tummy time from their first day home from the hospital.
At first, a baby may not enjoy tummy time, so try spreading it out into short 3-5 minute sessions throughout the day and keep the time playful. You can lengthen tummy time sessions as your baby begins to enjoy them more.
The rest of the time, make sure that your baby doesn't spend too much time in any type of contained device (including a play yard, bouncy seat, or stationary rocker)--they need plenty of independent floor time to practice their motor skills.
2. Provide good crawling conditions
In addition to tummy time, babies need room to explore safely. Make sure they have space to roll, scooch, and otherwise move independently.
Also, think about where your baby spends most of their floor time. Does it have hardwood or tile floors? If there's a rug, is it rough or soft? Your baby may be more interested in crawling if it doesn't hurt their knees and hands, so consider using a play mat or soft rug. However, most babies do not mind crawling on hard surfaces.
You should also dress your child in clothing that will not interfere with their crawling. Put away any longer dresses for a while--these can get caught under your baby's knees and keep them from moving.
If your baby will be crawling on a smooth surface, you might want to avoid leggings, tights, and socks while at home, since these can cause your baby's knees to slip and lead to frustration. Bare knees and toes provide traction that can help your baby crawl.
3. Offer incentives
Provide your child with something to crawl to. Place a favorite toy a few feet away on the floor and encourage your baby to crawl to it. As your baby crawls longer distances, you can move the toy farther away to give them more practice.
You are also a great incentive! Move across the room from your baby, get down on the floor, and encourage them to crawl to you.
4. Show them how it's done
Your baby loves to watch what you do. Show them how you can get onto your hands and knees, rock forward and backward, and crawl a few feet--they may just mimic you!
5. Make crawling fun
As your baby begins to experiment with different ways of getting around, make crawling a game to keep them entertained and motivated and keep building those gross motor skills.
A great way to do this is to set up a baby obstacle course with pillows to crawl over and around. Make sure to do this on a soft surface in case of tumbles.
When to be concerned
Although many children take longer to crawl, you should still monitor your child's motor development to make sure that there are no underlying issues impacting their ability to crawl. Signs to watch for include:
Delayed crawling is not necessarily a cause for concern. However, babies naturally want to move and will generally make efforts to be mobile, in the absence of other issues.
You should consult with your child's pediatrician if your baby is not making any progress toward using their body to get around, such as rolling, scooching, or belly crawling.
Asymmetrical crawling means that one arm or leg is dominant when a baby crawls. There are numerous reasons why a baby may favor one side of their body over the other.
In some cases, this is just a temporary phase and the baby will begin using both sides of their body equally as they gain strength and coordination.
If your baby continues to crawl asymmetrically, you should consult with your healthcare provider. Asymmetrical crawling can potentially be due to:
Asymmetrical muscle weakness or tightness
Issues with pelvis, hip, or joint alignment
Impaired vision, causing the baby to tilt to one side
It's important to address any underlying issues as soon as possible. Among other things, untreated asymmetrical crawling can eventually negatively impact bone, muscle, and joint development.
Other developmental delays
You should consult with your healthcare provider if your baby is not crawling and also shows signs of delay in other developmental areas.
If you have any concerns about your child's crawling, don't wait! Early intervention can be very effective in addressing any issues that interfere with crawling and help babies experience the benefits of crawling.
How to keep crawling babies safe
Before your baby becomes independently mobile, it's important to take precautions to keep them safe. Once they're on the move, they will be into everything!
The following safety precautions will allow your baby to explore safely.
Baby gates: Install wall-mounted baby gates at the top and bottom of stairs to prevent falls. You may also want to use gates to prevent your baby from accessing the kitchen, bathrooms, or any other area of your home that contains hazardous items.
Outlet covers: Install outlet covers on all outlets that your baby can access to prevent them from inserting their fingers or another object and getting shocked.
Anchor heavy furniture: Use furniture or appliance anchors to attach dressers, shelves, televisions, and other heavy items to the wall. These items can fall on your baby if they pull, climb, or fall into them.
Lock cabinets: Install safety locks on drawers and cabinets that contain hazardous items such as cleaning supplies, knives, or medications.
Secure windows: Make sure that any dangling cords from blinds or curtains are always kept out of your baby's reach--they pose a strangulation risk. Prevent falls by moving furniture away from windows and installing window guards on any windows that your baby can access (including by climbing onto something).
Cover sharp corners: Use rubber corner pieces or bumpers to cover sharp corners on a coffee table, fireplace surround, or other pieces of furniture to prevent injuries if your baby falls or bumps into them.
Get down on your child’s level: Get on your hands and knees and look for small hazards that you might otherwise overlook. It’s amazing what you might find under the couch (such as pills, button batteries, or ant poison)!
Frequently asked questions
1. Can babies crawl at 4 months?
It is unlikely for a baby to crawl at 4 months. Before a baby can crawl, they must be able to hold their head steady; develop sufficient arm, shoulder, and leg strength; and coordinate the movement of their arms and legs. Most babies learn to crawl between 7 and 10 months.
2. Do babies crawl or sit up first?
Babies tend to sit up before learning to crawl. Most babies develop the strength and balance needed to sit up around 6 to 8 months and crawl around 7 to 10 months. However, some babies achieve milestones in a different order and it’s not usually a cause for concern.
3. How long after creeping do babies crawl?
“Creeping” is another word for classic crawling–a baby moves forward on their hands and knees with each opposite arm and leg moving together. Most babies begin classic crawling between 7 and 10 months, although some may start earlier or later or skip crawling altogether.
4. What age do babies army crawl?
Army-crawling babies propel themselves forward with their arms while remaining on their belly. They may use their legs off to the side or behind, but mostly stay on their tummies. Some babies may begin to army crawl around 6 to 8 months, but others skip this crawling phase.
5. How long after army crawl do babies crawl?
It depends. Some babies army crawl early and then need time to develop more strength and coordination before they can crawl on hands and knees. Others quickly learn to classic crawl after army crawling. What’s important is that they are progressing in their mobility.
6. What is the best surface for babies to learn to crawl?
Babies can learn to crawl on carpeted or hard surfaces, although carpet is easier to grip and provides more stability for early crawlers. The most important consideration is providing an area that is free from hazards with room for your baby to safely explore.
7. Is it OK for babies to crawl on hard floors?
It’s completely fine for babies to crawl on hard floors, although it may be harder for them to stabilize themselves at first. Hard floors can be slippery if a baby is wearing both pants and socks, which might make crawling more challenging.
8. Do knee pads help babies crawl?
Baby knee pads are generally not necessary to help a baby learn to crawl. Babies’ kneecaps are still soft and flexible, making it less painful for them to crawl on hard surfaces. If you are concerned, pants can help protect your little one’s knees from bruises and scratches.
9. Do autistic babies crawl differently?
It’s common for children to go through a phase of asymmetrical crawling in which they use one side more than the other. On its own, this is not a sign of autism. Early signs of autism more often involve social and communication milestones, not motor skills.
10. Do babies who don't crawl have learning disabilities?
Not necessarily. Babies develop in their own way and may skip a milestone or achieve certain skills in a different order and still go on to develop normally. However, it’s important to consult with your baby's pediatrician to rule out any underlying reasons why your baby doesn't crawl.
Crawling is an important part of a child’s development and helps them to optimally build numerous physical and cognitive skills. But remember that children learn at their own pace and don't despair if your child is late to crawl. Many babies need a little encouragement to master this skill. Be sure to give your baby plenty of opportunities to move and explore, make this time fun, and consult with your healthcare provider if you have any concerns.