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Ask Dr. Mom — Do the Crawl

Q. My son is 10 months old. He's mastered rolling around the house like a barrel, but he doesn't get up on his hands and knees to crawl. Until now, my husband and I have been pleased with his development, but I heard that if a baby doesn't crawl, he may have trouble learning to read. Is this true? Should we be concerned?

A. Parents celebrate every milestone their baby achieves, so it's easy to become concerned if a particular skill doesn't appear when expected. But children vary widely in the pace of their motor development, and an individual child might be somewhat advanced in certain milestones while average or even delayed in others.

Gross motor development refers to a baby's progress in locomotion, such as rolling, crawling, and walking. The usual sequence in which babies acquire significant gross motor abilities may give you a broader perspective on how your child is doing. Many babies roll over by 4 months of age, sit up with help by 6 months, and by 8 months, sit up unassisted. At about 9 months, they may learn to crawl on their elbows with their belly on the floor and legs trailing behind. Around this time, they also begin to pull themselves up to standing. After that comes "creeping," the official term for crawling on the hands and knees with the abdomen off the floor. While most babies creep, some shuffle along on their bottoms, using their hands to propel them forward, a method called "hitching." Other babies, like your son, simply roll to where they want to go. Babies walk alone at approximately 11 to 15 months.

To evaluate a baby's overall development, a doctor will look at several categories of skills, including gross motor, language acquisition, social skills like playing interactive games, and fine motor abilities, such as manipulating small objects. Some milestones you could expect of a 10-month-old include: helping you dress him by holding his arm out for a sleeve; playing pat-a-cake and waving bye-bye; feeding himself a teething biscuit; babbling with long chains of syllables; picking up small objects between the tips of his index finger and thumb. If your baby's overall development is on target, I see no reason to be concerned about his not creeping. But if he seems delayed in several milestones, ask his doctor for a formal developmental evaluation.

Although I've also heard the claim that a connection exists between reading and crawling, I couldn't find any scientific literature to support this. In fact, a Johns Hopkins University study looking at reading ability and early development failed to show any relationship between the age of motor achievements and future reading prowess. The study did show a link between slower infant language development and later reading delay.