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Look Who's Crawling!

When Elijah Pineiro-Zucker started crawling at 8 months, his mom, Diane, was taken aback. Scuttling around with one knee bent and the other extended, he "looked more like a crab than a human," says Pineiro-Zucker, of Poughkeepsie, NY. Like Elijah's, many infants' first attempts at moving from point A to point B don't resemble the classic image of crawling  -- baby on hands and knees, with initially wobbly arms and legs working in a synchronized fashion. "There are actually many different styles, all of which are completely normal," says Nancy Dodge, M.D., a developmental pediatrician at the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, in Dallas.

Most infants make their first move sometime between 6 and 11 months  -- the average age is 9 months. But whether your baby crawls like a crustacean, scoots on his behind, or goes straight from sitting to standing, the cognitive and motor developments taking place are as exciting to him as they are to you. Here's what you can expect:

ALISON BELL, mother of three, writes for the Los Angeles Times.

Go, Baby, Go

What compels a baby to get moving? Rapidly advancing motor skills, for one thing. Developmentally, an infant can now master the balance, control, coordination, and reciprocal movement (one arm, then the opposite leg) that crawling requires. Meanwhile, earlier physical feats  -- like rolling over or pushing up on both hands  -- have strengthened the necessary muscles.

At first, your baby may just rock back and forth. That's because she has the strength to bear weight on her hands and knees, but her brain isn't yet able to produce the complex motor sequences required to propel her. You won't have to wait long  -- probably within a month, she'll be crawling.

Once she starts to make her move, she may not go forward. An infant has better control over her arms than her legs, so she'll push mostly with her hands at first, forcing herself backward. With practice, though, she'll discover that if she digs her knees in and pushes off with her legs, she can go toward the object of her desire. And since babies are naturally curious, this is a perfect time to encourage yours to explore her environment. Give her plenty of opportunities on the floor (see "A Step Ahead: 4 Ways to Childproof Now") and entice her into motion by placing a few favorite toys a foot or two out of her reach.

And if she never crawls? Around 10 percent of babies go directly from sitting to pulling up to walking. Experts aren't sure why, but it's perfectly normal. In fact, crawling is such an unpredictable marker of a child's development that some pediatricians don't even count it as a true milestone.

Late vs. Early

The two biggest factors affecting your infant's efforts at inching forward: size and temperament. "Larger babies may crawl later because they have more weight to maneuver," says Barbara Taylor-Cox, M.D., a pediatrician in Houston. A laid-back or a timid child may be content to stay where he is a little longer; a highly active, inquisitive infant is likely to get a jump start on his peers.

Which season your child was born in can also play a role: One study found that babies born in the summer and fall tended to crawl three weeks later than those born in the winter and spring. The reason? The summer/fall babies reached crawling age in winter, when they typically wear more restrictive clothing.

How early or late a baby crawls doesn't predict how quickly he'll learn to walk. Max Baker, of Jamaica Estates, NY, crawled at 6 months, but his identical twin brother, Sam, waited another two months. Their parents figured that Max would be the first to walk, but it was Sam who led off at 13 months, while Max waited four weeks to follow suit.

Making Connections

Whether your baby makes his big move sooner rather than later has nothing to do with intelligence; the parts of the brain that control motor development and cognitive skills are located in different areas. That doesn't mean that cognitive skills aren't an important part of his new-found motor ability. At around 8 months, babies develop what's known as object permanence  -- they know that things exist even if they can't see them. That motivates them to go searching for a favorite toy, or person, that's out of sight.

Infants are also developing the increased attention span and sophisticated reasoning powers they need to focus on reaching a target, says Dr. Dodge. Your little one can now process more complicated thoughts, such as "There's the couch  -- I'd better go around it, or I'll crash."

At around 9 to 12 months, a baby begins to assert some independence: Now he can literally get some distance from you. Simultaneously, however, separation anxiety kicks in, which mitigates this independent streak and helps keep him in your line of vision (at least most of the time).

Oh, the Changes You'll See

As your child starts to cover more ground, you may notice that she's making less progress in other areas, such as fine motor and language development. So much energy is consumed by crawling that she simply won't have as much left over for mastering other new skills, says Dr. Dodge.

Another possible change: Your child may be either so excited or frustrated by her new challenge that she doesn't sleep through the night anymore. Resist the temptation to pick her up or bring her into your bed, since you'll establish a pattern that can be hard to break later. Instead, pat her on the back to comfort her, but let her settle down on her own, recommends Dr. Dodge. Luckily, this phase should be short-lived. "Within a few weeks or so, most babies go back to their previous patterns," she says.

Just be prepared for the one thing all parents discover  -- you'll be hustling constantly too. Eleven-month-old Carter Tipton, of Takoma Park, MD, delights in racing his father, Sean, to the stairs  -- to see if he can make it before Dad closes the safety gate. "He puts his head down and stretches out his stride, just like a sprinter," says Tipton. "I really have to run to get ahead of him."

Dad doesn't mind, though: "Carter is more joyous than I've ever seen him because he loves his new freedom," Tipton says. "And that's so much fun to watch."

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