Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Teaching Your Baby to Crawl

The average age that an "untreated" baby with Down syndrome crawls (on hands and knees, otherwise known as creeping or 4 point crawling) is 17 months old. This is twice the age of a typical baby. Of course, your baby has an extra advantage because he has you to cheer him on! 

How can you help him creep or army crawl sooner/better? 

First, you need to address the low muscle tone. Even if he doesn't appear to be "floppy," if he has a T21 diagnosis, chances are his muscles are weaker than a typical baby. (See Low Muscle Tone: What to Do

Next, you need to get him comfortable on his tummy. (See Tummy Time) Often if babies don't like tummy time, you try these tips and they get more comfortable with it. That's how Jett was. At the very first he didn't like it but quickly took to it. If your child still hates being on his tummy, I'd take him to an MNRI practitioner to address problems with reflex integration. Many times this can clear that issue up. If he still doesn't like tummy time after the MNRI practitioner doesn't see a reason why not, you can take him to an ABM practitioner to see if they can get him to a point where tummy time is easier. With my child with CP, he couldn't enjoy tummy time until both MNRI and ABM was utilized. It turned out that he didn't have proper range of motion in his neck and shoulders. Once that was addressed, he was totally fine with tummy time.

Five steps to crawling:

1) Put her on the carpet. The very first thing your baby must master before there's any hope of learning to crawl is being comfortable on her tummy. You'll get great results doing this if you talk to and play with your baby when she's on the carpet or a blanket. Jett was happy on his tummy if I put him on the sofa and I sat down on the floor next to him. That way, we were face to face and both comfortable. (This worked until he was able to roll over then, of course, we had to move to the floor!) See Tummy Time for more tips.

2) Put together a roller. Roll an ordinary bathroom towel into a "sausage". Of course, you can also buy any other type of roller. They're soft cylindrical shaped toys... preferably solid. You can get inflatable ones, but solid ones normally last much longer.

3) Position her elbows. Gently hold your baby by the elbows and draw them towards her body. It will almost seem as if your child wants to lie on her elbows. Continue to provide support. I did not do this with Jett; it may not be necessary.

4) Position on roller. Gently position the "sausage" under your baby's upper body… arms hanging over the front of the "sausage". The rolled up towel supports the upper body - NOT her stomach - with her elbows just touching the carpet. It should slightly raise her upper body thereby allowing her to discover the surroundings. Make sure her elbows touch the carpet - they must not be hanging in the air.

5) Perform in front. This is the most important step. Get down on the floor directly in front of your child and face her. Now, let your baby look at your face while you talk to, amuse and encourage her. Many parents also found a crawl mirror is a great help.

The idea is to encourage your baby to enjoy longer sessions on her tummy. She must focus on you and will then spontaneously develop a sense of using both elbows and legs for support. If it's done right, you'll soon see her supporting herself on both knees and straight arms... ready to crawl.

The power of this 5P System lies in raising your baby's upper body to look at her surroundings... all while lying down. Another thing we did to strengthen Jett's arm muscles is to have him grasp our fingers and let him hang (over a soft surface). Once your baby can grasp your fingers, you can give this a try.

The more your baby is on her tummy, the better and the sooner you'll see results.

How to encourage moving forward instead of flailing about or in circles

When your baby is able to hold his head up and seems to want to move forward, but can't, just press your thumbs on the bottom of his feet. When he feels the pressure there, he will learn that he can press against you and push himself forward! Jett loved this and was moving forward right away.

How to encourage crawling forward instead of backward

Jett could army crawl backwards quickly and easily and could do it when he felt the pressure of our thumbs on his feet, but to teach him to move forward on his own, my husband made a crawling track (looks like a slide with sides). If you put the track on an incline, and the baby on top, gravity will help him to move forward. After just a couple of sessions in the track, Jett quickly figured out that he can move forward on his own! I've heard some parents used their coffee table on an incline as well.

Crawling Track

Note: Be sure to use nontoxic items in your crawling track. Vinyl is toxic (contains all sorts of troubling chemicals, such as lead, phthalates, and off-gasses carcinogenic fumes), foam is a neurotoxin and most glue is toxic as well.

These are the nontoxic items I tracked down and my husband used in Jett's track:

Nontoxic glue
If you don't know which type of glue to use, you can email them to be sure. 
If, for some reason, Green Choice can't help you, you can also contact: customersevice@buygreen.com 
Green Retail and Wholesale, LLC
  14 Goodyear, Suite 135
  Irvine, CA 92618-3759

 TF: 888.9.BuyGreen or 888.928.9473 x812
 FX: 949.281.6241
Nontoxic foam

I skipped the foam & vinyl and just applied linoleum to the wooden track instead. (My husband did this, not me.) It was slippery enough that Jett went down it fine. I just made sure he had on soft pants to cover his legs. I left his feet uncovered so he could feel and grasp as needed. We live in Florida, so temperature wasn't a problem.

If your baby is army crawling, but not on hands and knees:

First, army crawling is good for your baby. It helps them get a sense of space. So, don't fret too much. But, what worked great for Jett to encourage creeping (on hands and knees) over army crawling is climbing stairs. I put away all his toys in the nearby area. Then I set up the sofa cushions like stairs (we don't have stairs). Then I put his favorite books, toys, and even his therapy supplies that he's not allowed to play with on top. He happily and excitedly goes up the stairs and expects a book to be read, to play with a very interesting toy for a little bit, or a short therapy session. After a story or about 5 minutes of play time/therapy session, I bounce him back down the stairs to the bottom. He laughs and laughs. I gave him a lot of praise the first two times he climbed the stairs, but it's completely unnecessary after that. His reward is at the top of the stairs.

You can also roll up a small sheet or towel and loop it under his stomach and lift him up as he's trying to army crawl.

And you can set up a mini obstacle course. Cover 2 x 4s with a blanket or towel and set them down on the floor with spaces in the middle so your child will have to lift himself up to crawl over them. It's usually too uncomfortable for them to drag their body over in an army crawl.

Also, creeping is more comfortable on the carpet. Army crawling is more comfortable on harder floors or floors with scratchy covering. On hard surfaces, I put sweat pants on Jett so It's more comfy to crawl upon.

Once I started doing these things with Jett, especially the stairs, he started creeping more and immediately started to pull himself up into standing position. (But crawling is more important for brain development, so I encouraged crawling over furniture cruising!)

Teaching Baby To Crawl After He Can Sit

If your baby already puts himself into a sitting position (you sitting him up doesn't count), then you can try this "stretching" method. Once he is sitting, simply place a colorful toy or plaything on the floor, slightly in front and to either his left or right.

If you place the toy outside your baby's reach, he will have to stretch and support his upper body with the other hand.

Keep on repeating this activity, placing the object farther and farther away and in a little while your baby will be stretching, lunging then crawling to reach it.

Have a particularly stubborn baby? (Just kidding!) Once you understand the importance of crawling rather than sitting, you may need to resort to tying a (non plastic) bag of uncomfortable-to-sit-on-items to your child's bottom. Or stuff his pants/diaper cover with such items. He won't want to sit on them, so he'll decide to crawl instead. You gotta do what you gotta do!

Another idea to help encourage your baby to crawl forward instead of sitting is to use the crawling track on an incline with a super exciting toy (or Daddy) at the end. In just a couple of days in the track, Jett was able to crawl forward (but he did crawl before sitting).

My Baby Crawls Funny

Okay, so you got him crawling/creeping! Congratulations! Now what? If your baby drags a leg; uses two hands, one knee and a foot, etc.--anything that is not a typical crawl pattern, you need to get it fixed as soon as you can. Jett dragged his left leg until we got it corrected. If your child continues to "crawl funny" then it can mess up the development of the ball and socket in the hip by rubbing it the wrong way or pulling it out, etc. Correct creeping is how the hips are properly formed. (Your therapists may say it is fine and s/he will outgrow it. I'm telling you, they are incorrect.) To fix this, take your child to a baby-friendly chiropractor, Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, or craniosacral therapist for accupressure/mild adjustments/craniosacral work. (Say NO to x-rays. If they suggest this, find someone else!) This is a problem and it can and should be fixed. I know plenty of parents who didn't know this and now are dealing with surgery, casts, braces, etc. After several adjustments, Jett crawled perfectly and has ever since!

Bear Crawling

Bear crawling, or crawling on hands and feet rather than knees, does build strength, but does nothing to help organize the brain. Encourage your child to crawl on hands and knees. Perhaps s/he doesn't like the floor surface? You may want to consider putting on pants or long socks to protect the knees. Jett only did this when I didn't have long pants on him.


Kay Ness, Neurodevelomentalist, SENC

Q. Fish's book Down Syndrome: What You CAN Do

Related Posts


Anonymous said...

I love your website! Congrats on having such a fun, easy to read, informative site! I would really,really like to know what non-toxic supplies you found to make the crawling track. I've dreaming about it for years (just waiting to finally be pregnant!) but now realize just how toxic the track's components are. Help!

Andi Durkin said...

Elise--excited for you! I've updated the post to include the nontoxic supplies & suggests.
Best wishes!

Tin said...

Hi Andi, just discovered your great blog!

I am a young mum to a DS baby, based in Poland. Unfortunately there is little support here in our country, no real medical programmes for DS kids, it's only parents support groups. Would you be so kind to allow me to translate this post into Polish and have it posted to one of the few DS information websites here, for other parents to read? Of course, source and you as the author would be clearly stated.

Thank you in advance!


candancehoof said...

Im a new parent of a precious and very determine lil 8mon old baby girl who has t21, and I'm so happy that ive found this website. Ive been trying to get her crawling, she loves to be on the floor she rolles everywhere.

Andi Durkin said...

Loving floor time is half the battle! Congrats on your little sweetie!

Grace said...

Andi, first, I LOVE your blog and refer friends to it and reference it myself ALL THE TIME!! THANK YOU!!!

Any ideas on helping my 19mo stay up on his hands and knees? He has been doing a seal crawl (pulling mostly by his hands) for several months now (sweeping the floor for me!) and he's finally putting his knees under him and will "crawl" if my hand is under his chest, but it seems like his knees slip out from under him to the side, then he gives up and resorts to his "comfortable" mode.

Have you used Hip Helpers? Do you recommend them? We mostly do at home therapy (no therapists), but his does see a SCORSI chiro from time to time. He is mostly focusing on spreading his palate.

I have been adding vitamins/supplements as I can. Anything that you would particularly focus on to help his crawling?

Thank you so much for any advice you can give!! And congrats on your new little one! I've been praying for you all!

Andi Durkin said...

Hey Grace,

For getting Jett on hands and knees instead of on his belly to crawl, we did roll up a towel and loop it under his stomach and lifted him up when he was army crawling. (It takes a lot of energy on your part, though.) And having him crawl up stairs definitely helped him get up from his belly. Like I said above, I made my own stairs with couch cushions (drove my husband crazy) and Jett got better and better about climbing them and it got his muscles "trained" to do the motion so he soon abandoned the army crawling. (Although he did resort to it every once in a while for about a month.)
As for supplements to help with crawling... The overall support of a multi, the cognitive supporting supplements (particularly ginkgo, curcumin, green tea extract and NeuroProtek) as well as the muscle supporting supplements couldn't hurt, but I don't know one in particular that produces better crawling.
No, I didn't try Hip Helpers on Jett. His muscle tone was fairly good. Jett's ND did advise against the use of HH.

Crazed Parent said...

Certainly great help for new parents, my brother has 6 months baby and hence wanted to know when will he start making moments.
Just happy to find good information on the post.

Erica said...

What if your little one has had chiro adjustments and still crawls dragging a leg and tucking an arm? He's seen a chiro since birth. He was born at 32 weeks gestation.

Andi Durkin said...

Erica, not to scare you, but you may want to rule out a stroke or cerebral palsy, etc. In the meantime, do try accupressure. If it is from a stroke or CP (brain damage from oxygen deprivation at/around birth, etc.), don't despair, there's plenty you can do. (Jett's little brother has CP and a lot of the treatments for stroke is similar.) Please feel free to contact me if you need to. Dragging a leg/tucking in an arm is not normal.