“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.
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!
The 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
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
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!
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
Hey! My 13 month old still only belly crawls. My pediatrician isn’t worried about it but I am highly concerned for developmental delays if she doesn’t h&k crawl. She belly crawls (which she learned to do before scooting on her bottom, scoots on her bottom, goes from lying to sitting and sitting to lying alone. She will try to get on all fours but just rocks back and forth and when she finally decides to go somewhere, she plops down and belly crawls. Please offer advice and hopefully some reassurance.
Thanks for your question. For babies who scoot on their bottom, there are absolutely some things you can do to do to encourage crawling. Whether she does find it herself out of the bouncing can depend on what’s going on for her, if it’s “just” a movement habit, if there’s a reflex she hasn’t found, or if there’s actually tension or pain somewhere.
Hi Eliza! My 11 mo son has always crawled with his right leg up…I’ve taken him to a chiropractor and osteopath his whole life. His osteopath noticed his crawl about 2 weeks ago and said he needed to get both knees down. His chiropractor said the same thing after I asked about it – he said not to let my son walk until he mastered the crawling. I’ve been following my son around on the ground trying to hold his right leg down as he crawls. It’s only been about a week of me holding his leg down consistently, and I haven’t seen much improvement as that stubborn right leg keeps popping up. I’m wondering how much I should keep going with holding his leg down and how long it will take him to break the habit of keeping his right leg up. Am I going overboard here or right on track?
Hi Christina, thanks for your inquiry, it sounds like you’ve been addressing some things already. You’re not going overboard, you just may want to shift where you’re looking! Yes, it is very important to get both knees down; however, the legs/limbs are a reflection of what’s going on in the torso (spine/pelvis), so even more important is a couple things: 1) the knee will go down because of a weight shift, so where we need to look/work may not actually be his knees, but his movement and/or structure in relation to shifting weight, 2) that said, is there a certain shaping or circumstance in his anatomy that’s creating that dynamic, and how can we play with the dialogue between movement and his structure in ways that give him the most options possible.
My baby commando crawls, but drags her left leg. She pulls forward with both hands – should I be worried?
Hi Jemma, if any limb isn’t engaged or is dragging, we would want to see what’s going on. Belly crawling is a body-half pattern that typically engages the whole body, so we’d want to check out what the reason is for not shifting weight and utilizing that leg. Sometimes it’s just a reflex not popping open, sometimes a habit stemming from different possible internal or external factors, and sometimes there can be pain or restriction.
Hi there, I have a 10mo that bear crawls, she can use her knees but she just seems to rather like her feet and hands. She is very fast and I don’t feel like she’s behind, just different. 🙂
Hi there, yes bear crawling is a wonderful milestone (https://consciousbaby.com/the-14-at-least-milestones-between-crawling-and-walking/)! It has some different qualities from belly crawling and H&K crawling. Sorry about the crazy formatting on above link.
Hi Eliza, my baby is 11 months old and scoots on her buttocks
Will this delay her walking? Winnie
Hi Winnie, thanks for reaching out. Timing of walking doesn’t matter so much; the bigger concern is to provide her support so that she can crawl on hands and knees. I’ll connect further via email 🙂
My son mostly does the belly crawl but doesn’t use his right leg when he does it. He’s 11 months and just started doing some hands and knees crawling but is pulling up and walking furniture should I be concerned?
He’s showing you something about that right leg. You’ll want to know whether it’s a preference or he really can’t use it for whatever reason. I’d recommend having a session or at the very least keep observing him and see if he’s able to use both legs.
He uses both legs in other ways. Kicking splashing walking standing ect. It’s just in a belly crawl he doesn’t use the right leg. The chiropractor is concerned our pediatrician is not
That’s great that he uses both in other ways. Pediatricians often aren’t concerned, but movement/reflexes aren’t necessarily their specialty; great that you also have a chiropractor. Any time a baby is only using one side for a movement, they’re showing us something. Can you swing a Skype session? https://consciousbaby.com/services/consultations/
Hi Eliza, I guess I’m looking for a little reassurance. My nearly nine month old has always been unpropped and we are following natural development and she is a lot ‘slower’ than all my friends propped babies in learning to crawl. She has just started to crawl the last week on her belly and I can’t help feeling disappointed that she is doing it with one leg only. She will sometimes use just her left and then just her right. Up until now she had looked so graceful and in control of her movements (her rolling is so beautiful to watch) Will the cross lateral commando crawling come or will she miss this out? I’m sure people are looking at me thinking she’s behind as I don’t sit her up! Also I feel like she is getting frustrated in her inefficient crawling method or that could just be me projecting my worries! Any advice very welcome! TIA
Hi Hannah, it’s great both that you’re following natural development and following up on your gut feelings/questions. I can’t say much without seeing her, to clarify my understanding of what she’s doing and to speak accurately to whether she’s “on track” (just going at her pace) or if there’s a reflex not opening up or something else inhibiting her (not a bad thing, but easiest when supported sooner rather than later). Crawling on the belly (commando) is a side-to-side motion that involves one leg bending up. Cross-lateral doesn’t come until hands and knees crawling. Some degree of frustration is part of what motivates development; at the same time, it can be a signal that support is needed. Please don’t hesitate to contact me for a Skype session (and ask me about $ options if needed). It’s a supportive, noninvasive, friendly time and I can show you some empowering ways to support her at this stage and also leading up to H&K crawling (without pushing).