I thought about posting this at parenting.SE and might cross-link to it, but for now I see it as somewhat of a claim that's tossed around and in the same bucket as some others (like not standing too close to a microwave). In any case, my parents bought my wife and I a video called "The Importance of Being an Infant" (LINK) (didn't realize how expensive those were until I looked for a link!). The video mentions that crawling for a certain amount of time and not moving on to walking too early is extremely critical for proper development.

We were having dinner the other day with some friends and they referenced that bit of "wisdom" and said that it was complete BS, referencing some of their siblings who never crawled but are great at sports.

The video is actually quite well done, referencing some reflexes and how such reflexes might not be grown out of if the crawling phase is skimped on, and prior to hearing my friends' comments, I had never really doubted it. There's other sources for this claim as well, for example THIS:

It appears that in some kids this reflex does not dissipate. The cause could be genetics, little time spent crawling or extended periods of time spent in walkers or exersaucer. Whatever the cause, there are some hypothesized negative outcomes for some kids when this reflex does not subside...

So, is there any scientific literature showing the critical/beneficial nature of a "proper" crawling period for childhood development?

I'd have to fire up the DVD, but I recall it giving a specific length of several hundred hours of crawling prior to walking and suggesting that parents not hold their kids in standing position to help them walk any earlier. A secondary question if the above is "Yes" is how much time is suggested.

  • anecdotal ref so as comment. but this blog post puts the time until walking to when the child decides walking is better than crawling (no specific time period given) Commented Jun 19, 2011 at 17:16
  • Will try to back this up with actual evidence soon when I have time, but I've been told by people who work in child development: very important.
    – erekalper
    Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 0:37
  • Anecdotal: we actually asked our pediatrician this on Friday, and she told us that so long as our son has the upper body strength to lift his head and shoulders up from a prone position without a problem, actual crawling isn't important.
    – Beofett
    Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 11:32
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    I see no definition of "proper"? What is it? Whats the claim? Are you suggesting parents force childs to crawl/walk ? If you dont interfere with your child, then this will be optimal for it. Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 15:00
  • @solomoan: Did you even visit the website linked above? It continues on from my quote with a list of potential negative effects from not crawling enough, so implicitly, "proper" could simply be taken as "not having those negative occurrences at as high a rate of non-crawlers" (if the two are actually causally linked). As I said, I'd need to re-watch the DVD (which I can do tonight perhaps), but I recall the implication being that non-crawlers will retain childhood reflexes that will impair certain activities later in life. I'll edit with more tonight.
    – Hendy
    Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 15:11

1 Answer 1


It seems that the claim about the importance of crawling is most likely false.

I was not able to find evidence supporting this theory. The closest I could find was a reference to a study in the same book cited in the article you linked:

The book "Stopping ADHD" cites a study by Dr. Miriam Bender that found that at least 75 percent of the learning-disabled people surveyed had an immature symmetric tonic neck reflex contributing to their disability.

It is impossible from this statement to identify any positive causality between lack of crawling and ADHD.

This paper suggests that it is lack of "tummy time", rather than crawling, that leads to retention of STNR, and that insufficient "tummy time" makes learning how to crawl more difficult and frustrating for the infant.

This paper suggests that the link between reflex retention and ADHD is not specific to the STNR, and that most of the typical ADHD symptoms are more likely to be associated with retention of earlier-stage reflexes (primarily the Moro reflex).

The number of children skipping crawling seems to be on the increase, and this is likely due to the movement away from allowing infants to sleep on their bellies in an effort to reduce SIDS (LINK). Note that a study referenced in that article found that there was no difference in other developmental milestones for the children who either learned to crawl later or skipped it altogether:

A long-term study of child development, intended to follow nearly 15,000 infants from birth until adulthood, began in 1990, just as Britain began its Back to Sleep campaign.

Dr. Peter Fleming of the University of Bristol, a director of the British study, said that at first doctors and parents were wary about the new advice, and many doctors suggested that the babies lie on their sides. But gradually, as their fears were allayed and data accumulated tying sudden infant death syndrome to sleeping on the stomach, virtually all doctors began urging parents to keep their babies on their backs. The British study tracked this change. In the early 1990's, when most babies slept on their stomachs, they turned over and crawled when the books said they should. Within the last five years, as parents uniformly began putting babies on their backs, more and more babies did not roll over or crawl on schedule, and increasing numbers never crawled.

But, Dr. Fleming said, the babies were normal by every other measure. ''In medicine, whenever you introduce something new, you worry that it might cause problems,'' he said. But, he added, that did not happen. ''When the cohort was 18 months old we looked again at developmental milestones and there was absolutely no difference in these children's development,'' Dr. Fleming said.

Furthermore, this article suggests that crawling may have become a common developmental milestone only relatively recently, as leaving a child to crawl on the ground was frequently either unsafe, unsanitary, or both.

There seems to be little to no supporting evidence for the theory that crawling is a crucial process for moving past the STNR, and the problems cited in conjunction with late retention of the STNR seem to be correlation without causality. This is supported by the similar correlation with late retention of earlier reflexes, as well as the study showing changes in crawling milestone achievement did not impact other milestones.

  • 1
    To put things in perspective: As someone diagnosed with ADHD, and having met many others, I consider ADHD as a trait rather than a disorder, and not necessarily a bad one.
    – johanvdw
    Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 16:08
  • @johanvdw I don't have ADHD, but I totally agree. I consider it more of a "personality type" rather than a "disorder", and it clearly has some advantages over "non ADHD personality types". My personal belief is that it has grown in statistical frequency due to expansion of the definition for no other reason than to give shady therapists and researchers an excuse to make a living at the expense of concerned parents.
    – Beofett
    Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 16:12
  • Sorry for the late read on this; fantastic work. Very good point re. historical crawling being perhaps not so common -- made me think of other cultures were perhaps they carry the children around for most/all of the day in various carrying slings. I wonder if it's mostly developed countries with clean-ish houses where crawling has become such a highly focused on activity! Great work.
    – Hendy
    Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 21:19
  • n = 1 study (sounds better than anecdote) my son was one of those infants who scooted around in a sitting position instead of crawling. He learned to walk at a typical age (don't remember exactly when, but I never had any concern) and is not ADHD.
    – tgdavies
    Commented Sep 16, 2017 at 12:47

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