What Being an Early Crawler or Walker Could Mean for Your Baby's Future

Some research suggests that your baby's personal gross motor skill development timeline could predict their chances of future success.

Baby walking with parent
Photo: Marlon Lopez/Shutterstock

If your baby is quick to take their first steps, it's probably a great source of pride for you…and it may also predict a lot of pride down the road. A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that babies whose gross motor skills (think: crawling, standing, walking) sharpen early on may be destined for success later in life.

"Our findings are consistent with those of longitudinal studies performed a few decades ago, showing that the age a child achieved major milestones of standing or walking were predictors of later child performance in memory," Akhgar Ghassabian, M.D., Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and lead author of the study, said.

Modern parenting has embraced robust prenatal care such as nutrition and mental and emotional health during pregnancy, as well as advances in pediatric medicine, early childhood interventions, and lifestyles that boost the health of parents and kids. Researchers wanted to know if those improvements in parenting could correlate to later development in babies and children.

The team of researchers looked at 599 milestone reports recorded by parents of children born between 2008 and 2010 as part of the study. Parents recorded when their children sat up without support for the first time, crawled for the first time, stood alone, and walked without assistance.

"In this study, parents completed an easy-to-administer assessment on their children's progress, which served as a useful indicator of later development," Ghassabian said of the study's methods.

Researchers found a link between the age at which babies first stood and their cognitive abilities at age 4. For example, most babies stand independently at around 9 months, and according to the study's authors, those who didn't stand alone until 11 months had lower test scores at age 4.

This new research may do more than just help us understand how certain children develop. "Being able to identify any delay in a child's development early is important. Intervening early can greatly improve a child's developmental outcomes," Ghassabian said.

While this study is exciting, it is not a perfect representation. For one thing, when it came to twins, the results were a bit complicated. "For twins, key predictors of later development, such as gestational age and birth weight, overshadow the potential predictive role of milestones in infancy," Ghassabian said.

Additionally, the study was too small to make any sweeping statements about the possible connection between gross motor skills and cognitive skills. For example, in 2013, the Swiss National Science Foundation also conducted a small study that looked at whether or not early walking could predict intelligence. What they found was that there was no connection between coordination and intelligence. A clumsy kid could be smarter than an agile child, and vice versa.

That said, further research is necessary to determine whether the onset of motor skills can really predict cognitive abilities later in life—and if this association carries on into adulthood. Parents are keenly aware of their children's milestones and stages, making them the perfect experts to spot any potential deviations from typical development, but no one marker such as early walking can accurately predict the future.

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