Your kiddo may have crawled over to the cat's food dish before now, but by 9 months, be prepared for him to start dining on the kibble. The combination of your baby's locomotion and increasingly deft fingers means that you need to stay on guard more than ever. As your baby starts to pull up on everything in sight, don't be surprised if tables and other items are upended.
"They're checking everything out. They get themselves into mischief because of their curiosity," says Thomas M. Seman, M.D., a pediatrician and the president of North Shore Pediatrics in the Boston area. "They aren't always trying to create havoc, but they do anyway."
What to expect: Around this age, babies can often sit without assistance and are learning how to get from place to place. "This is special because it gives baby one of his first tastes of independence," says Anne Zachry, Ph.D., a pediatric occupational therapist and author who runs the website tummytimetips.com. "Having the ability to crawl away from her parents -- and return -- gives Baby a new sense of freedom."
Many babies crawl on their hands and knees by this point. They can probably examine whatever they find along the way more closely, thanks to their improving fine motor skills. "They've discovered their fingertips, so they're doing a lot of pincer grasp," Dr. Seman says. "Whereas at 6 months they grab everything with their whole fist and palm it, now they have the dexterity to select something."
In addition to using the pincer grasp, which involves using the tips of the thumb and index finger, babies might begin pointing and get better at using both hands together, Dr. Zachry says. "Babies at this age often enjoy banging objects together during play," she says.
Progression: "Those who started crawling earlier become more skilled with moving about," Dr. Zachry says. "As the weeks pass, you'll notice your baby exploring the environment with an increased sense of confidence. She is likely able to move from sitting upright into a crawling position, and back into sitting with increasing ease, which is great for strengthening her trunk and improving flexibility."
How to help: "Limit your baby's time in plastic containers, such as stationary play centers, swings and bouncer seats at this age," Dr. Zachry says. "Your little one should have plenty of floor time to strengthen the muscles needed for crawling, pulling up and walking." Imitation games can be fun for both of you. "Shake a rattle, bang on a drum, or clap your hands and encourage your baby to imitate you," Dr. Zachry suggests.
Babies this age love to manipulate things with their hands, exploring the weight and feel of items around them. "Give them textures, different shapes, different sizes," Dr. Seman says. "Obviously the smaller the size, the more you have to monitor them." Let your baby go barefoot and feel the difference between rug, hardwood, and tile, he suggests.
When you should worry: If your baby doesn't want to explore and be involved. "Kids who are sitting still, who just want to be next to the parent or next to no one, those are kids you worry about," Dr. Seman says. "You want them to want to explore, to get into mischief." Sometimes this is the age when vision problems become apparent. "If they're grabbing and reaching for things and totally miss it, you wonder if there's a vision difficulty," Dr. Seman says.
Don't freak out if: Your baby avoids the classic crawl. "Not all babies crawl on their hands and knees," Dr. Zachry says. "Some scoot on their bottoms or pull themselves forward while dragging their belly against the floor. If your baby does this, don't be alarmed. The most important thing is that your baby finds a way to explore her surroundings."
And don't panic if your child falls. "The two thickest parts of the body are the back of the head and the front of the head," Dr. Seman says. "They may cry for a minute, but if they get up and are ready to explore in a minute, they're fine."
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