Because it may take weeks for your child to become strong enough to lift his tummy, on his first attempts (which can occur at as early as 4 months), "he may look like he's trying to squeeze under a fence on his belly, with his hands making swimming motions," says Charles A. Scott, M.D., a Medford, New Jersey, pediatrician and vice president of the New Jersey chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. (The layperson's term for this is "creeping.") Babies may also crawl in reverse at first: "Infants develop body strength from the head down, so their arms are initially stronger than their legs," Dr. Berger says. "Many babies lift up by their arms and push off, then end up going backward."
Your child's style may remain unconventional. Some kids sit on their rear and scoot, others roll, and still others continue to crawl backward. Why? "If a child finds a way that's effective, he may not be motivated to refine his technique," Dr. Berger says.
Before giving your baby floor time, cover all electrical sockets, put soft bumpers around sharp table and desk edges, lock drawers and cabinets, and make sure furniture is secure (bookcases, for example, should be bolted to the wall) and that the pull cords of window blinds are out of reach. Then scan the floor for buttons, pennies, and other choking hazards.
Once you've made a clean sweep of the area, let your child explore. As long as you provide opportunities for him to learn, your baby will go far.
If your little one crawls later -- or not at all -- don't worry. "Some babies are placid," Dr. Berger explains. "Others concentrate first on learning to talk." Still other children, she notes, simply start to walk one day, without ever crawling.
In the case of some babies, not learning to crawl may be an unintended consequence of the Back to Sleep campaign. Launched in 1994 to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, it advised putting babies to sleep sunny-side up. But many parents and caregivers now leave infants on their back almost all day; and without spending time on their stomach, babies have difficulty mastering the moves needed for crawling.
Be sure to give your child regular tummy time. Dr. Scott suggests placing your baby on her stomach whenever you're around to supervise. If your child objects, put her facedown several times a day for just a few minutes, gradually increasing the length of these sessions. And if she still doesn't crawl? Mention it at her next checkup, but stay calm. There's no proof that kids who skip crawling have impaired muscle strength or other developmental problems down the road.