My baby doesn't crawl--should we have given him more time on his tummy?

Our ten month old is pulling himself up to standing and taking a few steps holding on.  We're thrilled to see him advancing so well, but we're worried because he has never learned to crawl.  A friend told us that if a child doesn't learn to crawl he may have trouble learning to read later on.  Is this true?  Is there something we should do? Is it because he slept on his back?

You don't have to worry.  There is no relationship between a child not learning to crawl and a child's ability to read or master other skills.  Although most babies do crawl in one fashion or another, some, like your son, just go from sitting to standing and then on to walking.

The belief about crawling and its relationship to other skills is a common one.  It probably stems from the confusion some people have about relating early developmental behaviors that are associated with other problems to early developmental behaviors that cause other problems.  For example, a baby who was late to sit, did not crawl, and had poor muscle tone and fine motor coordination might be demonstrating signs of a neurological problem that could later interfere with learning to read.  Difficulty learning to read would not be caused by not being able to crawl, but by the same underlying neurological problem that interfered with all of the baby's motor skills.  A baby who is developing normally but simply doesn't crawl is very different.

Because babies are placed on their backs instead of their bellies in the early months they may have less time to practice the baby push-ups that both strengthen their shoulders, arms, and back muscles and also give them a different perspective on the world. Old-fashioned games that encourage squirming towards an object out of reach might be less fun for a baby who doesn’t like being put in that position.

Is there an advantage to placing a baby on her tummy even if she protests? It is definitely important in early infancy, because a baby who is always face up in her crib or leaning back in a car seat can develop a flat molding of her skull on the back or side of her head. Although the molding may look unattractive on a bald baby, it does not cause developmental problems. The best approach is preventive, by placing babies on a mat or floor several times a day when they are awake and by changing the position of the crib if the baby is always tilting her head looking towards light. If parents notice flattening they should always bring it up with their pediatrician since in some instances physical therapy is helpful. A small number of babies with significant flattening may need to wear baby helmets which are a lot of work for parents, so prevention is best.

It’s usually best to combine “tummy time” with a range of different types of play and movement so that a baby has fun with her parent rather than an imposed exercise session. If tummy time goes hand in hand with simple daily routines or it can be linked to another activity. For example, try placing your baby on her tummy for a few minutes after changing her diaper--the minutes add up to a lot of tummy time throughout the day!

By the way, although it's great that you are enjoying watching your son's early attempts at learning to walk, you should know that early or late walking is not significant either.  Most children begin to walk between nine and seventeen months.  As long as a child has good strength and tone in his torso and legs, there's no cause for concern if a child is a late bloomer.  In fact, many parents of second children realize that there is a benefit to having a baby learn to walk later rather than earlier--it's less work to keep up with them!