It’s easy to get wrapped up in tracking your child’s milestones from moment one—we all want the reassurance that our child is developing at a normal pace; that we’re doing this whole parenting thing the right way. But the thing is, of course, there’s no completely “normal” path when it comes to child development, just like there’s no one “right way” in parenting. Not every baby will smile at 2 months. Not every baby will crawl at 9 months. And that’s fine! Milestones are to be used as general guidelines, not concrete rules.
When The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated their list of developmental milestones in February 2022, some child development experts called out the fact that certain milestones, like crawling, shouldn't have been removed from the list. But the timeline for when babies crawl is a bit of a fuzzy benchmark—it can vary a lot, notes pediatrician and parent coach Molly O’Shea, MD, FAAP.
“Unlike social and language skills, motor skills aren't influenced much by parents,” Dr. O'Shea explains. “Babies’ brains are wired for motor development and will learn skills on their own timeline.”
When do babies crawl?
The previous CDC guidelines stated that 50% of babies crawl at 9 months. But the actual range is much wider. “Most babies crawl after they sit up and before they pull to stand, so between 6 and 12 months,” says Dr. O’Shea. “Some babies never crawl, though, at least not in the traditional way.”
Some may roll to get where they want to go, while others may use just their arms, army-crawl style, and still others may scoot on their bottoms, she adds. “As long as your child is pulling to stand and cruising, crawling doesn't have to happen.”
Is it normal if a child skips crawling?
It’s perfectly normal if your baby doesn't crawl, says occupational therapist Brittany Ferri, PhD, a medical advisor at Medical Solutions BCN.
“Everyone develops at a different rate and some children skip creeping/crawling and move right to pulling to stand and walking,” Dr. Ferri notes. “However, if a child is around 9 months old and doesn't show any tendencies toward purposeful movement (e.g. moving the arms by reaching for objects, wriggling the legs and toes and trying to push up by bridging), then this is something you should mention to your child's doctor.”
It’s also normal if your child does crawl. When the CDC eliminated the crawling milestone from their list, they were essentially acknowledging the fact that it’s normal for some children to skip crawling and go right from unsupported sitting to furniture walking (cruising while holding onto tables, chairs and sofa cushions) to walking.
“This is by no means saying that crawling is abnormal,” Dr. Ferri stresses. “Rather, that it's not a long-lasting skill that will be with a child for years to come.”
Is crawling an important milestone for other skills, like reading?
Not necessarily. “Some people used to think that crawling was a necessary step in development and affected other things like reading, but we have learned that it isn't a necessary step,” notes Dr. O’Shea. Especially because it’s so variable in timing and in the way it looks.
That speaks to how developmental milestones are designed to be used. They’re intended as a way for pediatricians (and parents) to identify children who may benefit from early intervention—not as a checklist or a guarantee of future skills. If your child doesn’t meet one of the milestones, it’s meant to be used as a jumping off point for a conversation about next steps with your pediatrician, not as a reason to immediately worry that something’s wrong.
But of course, crawling is not without benefits. “Crawling can certainly help with coordination, since a child must move the arms and legs in a good balance in order to effectively move forward,” says Dr. Ferri. “Crawling can also encourage greater extremity strength, since a child must support their entire weight while on all fours. In these ways, crawling can certainly serve a benefit if a child naturally progresses to this milestone.”
It may also help with spatial memory, attention and creativity, given how the neural pathways light up in the brain when crawling, says Esther Ruber Lavi, an occupational therapist, infant sleep consultant and CEO/founder of Dream Big Baby.
Should you encourage your child to crawl?
It depends on your little one. “If a child is not showing any signs of crawling and instead is visibly attempting to pull to standing and start walking, parents should encourage that,” notes Dr. Ferri. “However, if a child is assuming an ‘on-all-fours’ position in preparation for crawling but is struggling to actually crawl, parents can certainly help them.”
How to encourage healthy movement and motor skills in your baby:
Dr. O’Shea and Dr. Ferri share their best tips.
- Offer plenty of floor playtime to allow for exploration. Have toys both within reach and out of reach but in sight to allow your baby to get more interested in moving around.
- Help strengthen their legs by holding them under their arms so that their feet are slightly off the ground, which will encourage their legs to move in an attempt to reach the ground.
- Limit distractions, keeping TVs and screens off in the background to help your baby focus on other interesting objects and be more intrigued by moving. Don’t forget to baby-proof your home!
- Encouraging tummy time is crucial, but parents should also allow their child to assume a variety of positions (on their back, on their sides, and on their tummy) to encourage them to strengthen many parts of their body.
- Model crawling behavior. You can crawl alongside your baby to show them how to move, which also helps with the parent-child bond.
At the end of the day, if you're concerned that your child isn't meeting developmental milestones, be sure to bring it up with your pediatrician, who can offer expert advice on your unique child.
Brittany Ferri, PhD, OTR/L, CPRP, is an occupational therapist and medical advisor for Medical Solutions BCN.
Esther Ruber Lavi, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist, infant sleep coach and CEO/Founder of Dream Big Baby, doula, and parent wellness specialist at Wevillage.
Molly O’Shea, MD, FAAP, is a pediatrician, consultant, parent coach and speaker based in Birmingham, MI.