Author Pam Versfeld Updated 17 January 2018
Some infants skip the crawling stage altogether, and instead scoot around, often at great speed, on their buttocks.
The infant may sit with one leg bent forwards, foot on the floor and push on the opposite arm. Infants who move like this always sit with the same foot in front.
Other infants sit with the hips wide apart, knees bent and feet on the floor. They move forwards by vigorously rocking the pelvis forwards and backwards and bouncing on their buttocks. This action requires lots of trunk (core) muscle strength.
The two video clips show clearly how infants combine leg and pelvic movements to move forwards. Both these infants move in a fairly symmetricl manner.
The most common reason for bottom shuffling is tight hip muscles
You may have noticed that the infants in the video clips both sit with their hips twisted out, and their thighs wide apart and close to the floor. This position of the hips is mostly seen in infants with hypermobile hip joints. Infants sit with their thighs wide apart and flat on the floor.
The most common reason for the extra mobility in the hips is generalized joint hypermobility, but it is also seen in infants who were born preterm.
Loose joint some tight muscles
Most often an infant or toddler who has excessive outward rotation of the hips, also has some tightness of the muscles that cross over the side of the hips. This means that sitting with legs wide apart is easy and comfortable.
The tendency to keep the hips wide apart can also be seen when the infant lies on the tummy or stands on the knees.
Infants and toddlers who have joint hypermobility will usually have some tight muscles. This is particularly true of the muscles that cross over the side of the hips. Tightness in these muscles makes it less easy to bring the thighs closer together when the hips are flexed, such as when sitting on a low step or in the crawling position.
Hip joint hypermobility and muscle tightness affects the infant's ability to get up into the crawling position. In the crawling position the legs are often held wide apart, which makes crawling difficult. Read more: Does my child have tight hip muscle?
Preterm infants often have tight hip muscles
Because infants born preterm tend to lie with their hips turned out and thighs flat on the cot mattress, they are also at risk of developing tightness in the hip muscles, which makes getting up into the crawling position tricky.
Can sit. Will move.
By the age of 10 -12 months active infants are not happy staying put in one place - they want to get moving. Infants who are crawling do not have a problem getting where they want to be - they are able to flip from sitting onto their hands and knees and off they go.
Infants who are not yet crawling do not have this option. However, with determined and repeated efforts to reach for toys that are out of reach, they quickly discover that by moving their pelvis and legs they can swivel around and move forwards.
What are the downsides of bottom shuffling?
If an infant has discovered how to get around by scooting on the buttocks, there is not much you can do about it. The good news is that bottom shuffling works the trunk muscles really hard - so the infant will have good core muscles.
One of the downsides of bottom shuffling is that the movement very often is asymmetrical - especially if the infant sits with the one knee flexed, or sits with the legs twisted to one side.
The asymmetrical position often leads to some tightness in the lower back muscles: the pelvis may be tilted up on one side. This tightness can be seen when the infant lies on the back: the one leg will be turned outwards and may appear to be shorter.
The second downside is that the child misses out on the experience of crawling, which is important for strengthening the arms and also provides a range of different opportunities for exploring different surfaces, steps and gradients.
A crawling infant learns to go up and down slopes, negotiate steps and move around on different surfaces such as grass, sand, slippery floors, carpets and so on.
Infants who crawl move from sitting to the crawling position many times a day. These movements teach the infant a lot about trunk control and stability and provide the trunk and hip muscles with regular stretching needed for good mobility.
Should I train my baby to crawl?
The answer is yes, it is important that your infant gets some crawling experience. However, your infant is not likely to use crawling to get around and will continue to bottom shuffle as the main mode of locomotion until he or she starts to walk.
What can I do get my infant crawling
The Developmental Gym Infant and Toddler On-line Guide provides instructions for:
1 Improving hip flexibly to make it easier for the infant to bring the legs closer together
2 Encouraging the infant to kneel at a step to strengthen the arms
3 Move from sitting into the crawling position
Read more: Promoting active sitting
4 Encouraging the infant to clamber up onto a step and a low couch
Once your child has learned to get up onto all fours and is taking a few steps forwards, you can provide environments that encourage crawling, such as soft surfaces, small barriers to cross, getting up and down steps and crawling up and down slopes.
You can also work on clambering up onto raised surfaces such as the the couch or a low bench.
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