A crucial part in the neurologic development of your child.
Our brains are amazing but what is even more amazing is how quickly they develop and how important specific steps are to developing into healthy adults. Sadly, today many doctors are not trained to emphasize just how important each milestone in development is, leaving your child potentially at risk to not reach his/her potential. Neural development is like clockwork, one step ends and another should begin. These milestones are crucial and can be similarly traced in nearly every single child, one of these overlooked milestones is crawling. A child who skips the crawling phase, does not crawl for very long, or has an abnormal crawl can be susceptible to a host of different areas in the brain being underdeveloped or potentially improperly formed in the long run. Understanding why crawling is so important and how you can help your child is a vital step in ensuring your little miracles thrives.
Just like our overall development, crawling also has a progression into what we would think of as normal crawling. First step should happen around 7-9 months and would be more described by most people as an “army crawl.” This crawl is arm over arm mainly driving with the torso and legs dragging behind. This is an elementary style of crawling and helps to begin engaging areas of the brain the specialize in timing and synchronicity. The next step is true crawling this should happen about 9-12 months, just before we get up and walk. This is a true crawl on hands and knees. This time frame is important, in allowing proper development of your child. Standing them up, or pushing them to walk earlier will overall be more harmful then helpful to them. Any other type of crawling that does not sound like these is considered to be “abnormal.” These types of crawls could look more like; scooting around on their butts, dragging one leg behind while crawling, rolling instead of crawling, and many other types.
Crawling helps your baby input sensory stimulus from the environment.
Crawling is one of the first times that we finally get to go “mobile” and truly begin to interact with our environments. Because of this, crawling is a great time of sensory development. One of the main ways that the average person interacts with their environment is through sight. The average healthy person would not notice, but in order for us to fully experience the environment around us our eyes must be able to to a lot of things. Our eyes jump to important or highlighted stimulus, they should smoothly track in all directions so our visual fields are not choppy, they should zoom in and out depending on how far away an object is, and many more things that we do not even realize. Although these things are mainly ocular reflexes that we are born with initially, they still have to be activated and we must learn how to proper utilize them to fully interact with the world around us. A proper crawl helps engage these brain centers and develop ocular motion properly.
One thing that may even be more important then sight is postural control. This cannot be properly engaged without crawling, because it would be much too difficult to learn. Think of it like riding a bike. Most people begin with training wheels, these help us begin to feel what it is like to balance, but also add support when needed. As a child crawls around on all fours their bodies are understanding what it is like to fight gravity and stabilize certain musculature, but have plenty of stability to aid if muscles are not initially in synch. Crawling helps engage our vestibular senses like balance and understanding where are bodies are in space. As a baby crawls around there are specific sensors within the ears that become activated keeping track and tell us if we are upside down, right side up, falling in one direction or the other, and overall just help us even further in becoming stable. This development helps our body control center come online, and teaches us how to activate certain muscles in times of need and relax others. This overall helps in the development of postural control, healthy muscle tone, balance, and symmetry side to side.
Crawling helps you baby with motor control during development.
One of the most important parts along with our sensory development is also the muscle activation and strengthening that takes place during crawling. First thing that is important in the army crawling phase, and the regular crawling is activation of our back muscles in helping us lift our bodies and heads off the ground. Next during the true crawling phase is activating of both our back muscles, and our abdominal muscles all the way around. Besides just being an attractive muscle for well defined individuals, our core muscles have a direct correlation with brain health. This is because if our core muscles are strong, symmetric, and help keep us properly elevated then our brains will be able to blossom properly. Bipedal development or standing on two legs, is one of the main reasons the human brain has been able to grow as large and efficient that it is. If our core muscles are weak, imbalanced, and do not work properly we will have bad posture and poorly interact in our environments.
These core muscles besides just holding us upright are important also in helping us with things like; breathing, eating, and even talking. Hopefully it would not take much to get across the importance of properly developing these. Another big portion of crawling is utilizing our underlying primitive reflexes, which help all of this develop. But also if these primitive reflexes are not used properly and for long enough that may still be present into later childhood and even adulthood. Primitive reflexes that are persistent and do not go away at the time they are designed to, can lead to underdevelopment in the brainstem area where they reside.
ATNR (Asymmetric tonic neck reflex)– this reflex helps coordinate muscle tone side to side as the baby’s head moves back and forth. As the baby turns to the left, the arm and leg on the same side should extend, and right side should flex. Then when the baby turns to the right the opposite should happen. This is an important reflex in ocular development with eye motion, helps the baby learn to crawl, helps with hand eye coordination and more. But if it does not go away this can cause poor handwriting, poor reading and writing skills overall, and overall just trouble with activities that would require their hands and feet to cross the center of their body.
STNR (symmetric tonic neck reflex)– this is another very important reflex that helps the baby prepare to crawl, and then to walk. As the baby looks down between his/her legs it causes their butt to pop up into the air and vice versa when they look up. This is important in coordinating motions to help the baby get up on its hands and feet. If this does not go away it can cause pour posture (slumping), inability to concentrate and sit still, and can also be attributed to poor muscle tone.
These are just two of the many primitive reflexes that our bodies are genetically coded to have. Crawling is important, because it uses these reflexes and others to the point of exhaustion. Primitive reflexes work on a time clock, and once they are used a sufficient amount they go away and the brain develops into the next phase of life. This is called integration, and can be thought of much like building a house. Once the foundation is developed properly the stabilizing structure goes up on top, and not the other way around. Trying to build a brain on top of a shaky foundation that has not been stabilized properly or matured in a specific process can lead to improper development.
What do I do if my baby didn’t follow these steps?
First off take a deep breath. A lot of these things can sound scary, and the thought of issues arising before your eyes that you did not know about can be overwhelming. I am very happy to report that in the last hundred year or so, scientist have discovered something amazing called neural plasticity. This is our brains ability to grow and adapt and even regenerate cells as long as they are given the proper environment, until the day we die. This means no matter how bad, or how abnormal some things are in your child or yourself things can be helped.
Plasticity is a slow process but an amazing ability for our brains to rewire, and learn tasks that either may not have developed properly initially or have been lost due to trauma or illness. The first step would be recognizing that something can potentially be abnormal for whoever you are worried about. Next would be to inform yourself on who can potentially benefit you. Any doctor or individual who states, “it doesn’t matter if your child skipped crawling,” or “do not worry your child is just a late bloomer” will most likely not be of benefit to you in this process. Sadly, many people still do not understand the importance of neural development early in life. Luckily this information is more readily available in various locations online, and lots of self help blogs, lectures, books, and more are to be of service for any individual looking to help their child. Lastly, find someone that is trained in neural development. This person can be of many shapes and sizes in specialty; PT’s, chiropractors, MD’s, OT’s, and more could be potentially of service to you and your child. Just realize that just because these individuals claim to “specialize” in pediatrics does not always mean that they understand neurologic development. Sometimes in order to locate these types of individuals it may have to be a little bit of trial and error.
In closing, no single person on earth understands their babies better then a mother. Many studies have tried to explain “mother’s intuition” through; DNA swapping, shear presence of being together all day, a form of telepathy or other neurologic connections, and a long list of other potential explanations. The fact is in most studies regardless the issue, mothers most of the time understand what is going on with their babies and able to determine if something is normal or abnormal. This is true most of the time, even if it is her first child. Study after study, although most of the time are very small, shows that mothers have this ability. Understand that any professional that will not acknowledge your concerns, is not someone on your team. Building a strong, caring, loving, team for your child to help them support and grow is a vital part to their success. Fire any professional that does not fit your standards without remorse.
Functional Healing Institute
Dr. Jake Boraas D.C.