“Commando” (belly crawling), sliding backwards, hands and knees, crawling with one foot, scooting on the bottom: so many ways! Plus, some say crawling is not important? This topic can get confusing, so let’s demystify it.

In the first year, there’s a progression of specific movements patterns that happens in typical development. Each pattern prepares the baby in specific ways for the next. In this sequence, there are two main types of crawling: belly crawling and hands-and-knees crawling.

Belly crawling

It’s often referred to as “commando crawling,” “pre-crawling,” or crawling “with the belly down.” However! It’s actually a bona fide developmental movement pattern in itself! It requires a very different coordination than hands-and-knees crawling.

Until now, Baby has been pushing up on both hands and perhaps rolling. But her brain—and her curiosity—now wants to travel from one place to another.

Try this: stand on your two legs. What must you do to take a step? What must you do to even lift one leg up? Shift weight!

DSC02417 crop smThe full pattern of belly crawling has the baby pushing with alternating feet and shifting weight from one whole side of her body to the other. However, it’s the most difficult pattern to master, and some babies don’t end up discovering the side-to-side motion (this is neither “good” nor “bad”). Belly crawling is also the first time Baby can cover significant territory (locomotion)!

Now let’s “back up” a bit and mention pushing backwards. This is legit too! Babies typically pivot in a circle and push backwards on their tummies before they belly crawl forward. It’s an important preparation for all crawling and sitting, and it organizes (strengthens and coordinates) the torso and shoulders like crazy. If you need a workout, just copy your baby!

Why is belly crawling important?

  • Allows Baby to learn how to shift and manage her body weight
  • Supports reading
  • Builds hand-eye coordination
  • Helps reflexes integrate
  • Shows the ankle, knee, and hip joints how to coordinate efficiently for hands and knees crawling and for standing/walking
  • Leads to independent sitting
  • Allows Baby to travel significant distance
Her right hand reaches; her left knee...

Her right hand reaches; her left knee…

Hands and Knees Crawling

Hooray! This is a culmination of all the previous patterns. Think of all 4 limbs. Baby has done upper-lower (e.g., pushed up on both arms) and side-side (used the same-side arm and leg together in belly crawling). Now, Baby uses opposite limbs: one arm reaches forward and the opposite knee follows. This action criss-crosses diagonally through the body, which is very different from belly-moving.

Why is crawling with both hands and both knees important? (click here for an entire blog post!)

  • Crossing of information between brain halves: develops the band of nerve fibers between the brain’s hemispheres called the corpus callosum
  • Ability to cross midline (to move a limb to the opposite side of the body)
  • Organizes hips, knees, and lower back in preparation for standing and walking
  • Supports reading
  • Expands hand-eye coordination
...her left (opposite) knee comes through.

…her left (opposite) knee follows.

So why do some babies do other options? First, while I present an ideal, I also think it’s unhelpful to call any of a baby’s movement “wrong.” Crawling with one foot up and scooting on the bottom began in wisdom—they were how Baby’s brain and body figured out to move, and that is a wonderful thing. However, these other “creative” options don’t offer the same benefits of the original two and can indicate compensation patterns (movements that make up for missing support) or stuck reflexes. Scooting on the bottom can arise from having been habitually propped in sitting before she can get into sitting on her own, or other reasons. Crawling with one knee and one foot can arise from side preferences, anatomical particulars (none of us is really symmetrical!), or other reasons–again, not “good” or “bad.”

Help your baby get the most out of crawling

To get the most out of these brilliant patterns for Baby’s brain and body, please allow her to crawl for as long as she chooses, allowing her to discover sitting, standing, and walking completely on her own (without holding or propping her upright habitually before she can do so by herself).

If your baby has skipped or modified either type of crawling, there are some simple and respectful things you can do through play to support her access to optimal motor development and the self expression that goes along with it. Don’t hesitate to reach out and inquire about a consultation, and we can respectfully investigate.

If your child is older now and didn’t crawl, it’s never too late for movement games. Think lizards and tigers!

It works for grown ups too!

Ah, but crawling isn’t just for babies–it can work wonders for adult brains! So get down on the floor and crawl with that baby!

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Eliza Parker is a certified Infant Developmental Movement Educator® (work of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen), Aware Parenting Instructor (Aletha Solter, Ph.D), Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, and is trained as a Feldenkrais® Practitioner.

© Eliza Parker 2015, All Rights Reserved, links welcome