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I see many posts around the Internet about "How to encourage your baby to crawl" but I've once heard that baby development should not be accelerated and that each phase is beneficial to develop certain muscles.

Is this true to crawling? Should babies be encouraged to crawl? At what ages/having reached what milestones?

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    Even when a baby is encouraged to crawl, he is not likely to be able to until various muscles and balance skills have sorted themselves out. Unless those prior milestones have been met, it seems unlikely to me that crawling would happen and so they couldn't really be accelerated -- but I'd love to see some actual research on that hunch :) – Acire Jan 5 '15 at 18:45
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The general advice not to "accelerate" the development of babies has one important reason:
Many people try to "help" a baby with the actual movement by placing it in a position it couldn't acchieve on its own or "supporting" them in some kind of upright position. This can be damaging, because if the skeletal muscles are not yet able to execute & support the movement, the weight is carried by the bones and joints alone.

This is true for example for:

  • "sitting" (putting too much pressure on the spine / lateral discs by putting a baby in a sitting position or too soon in a stroller with raised back)
  • "standing up" / "walking" (when it's basically holding up the baby by the hands/arms, not the baby standing up on it's own)

But I can't imagine how one could "help" a baby to crawl unless it's able to do so. As far as I know, "encouraging" in this case is done by placing interesting objects like toys just out of baby's reach - either he gets it or not.

My advice:
As long as the "encouraging" action is just motivating, not physically "helping", you should be fine. Of course you can motivate a child that is just about to ... by placing a toy at a certain place or offering opportunities to practice - use common sense and do not try to "train". Have fun together!

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No amount of encouragement or training will make a baby develop the muscle strength or coordination to do things they are not able to do. It's highly likely that a rational person would recognize this after a small number of failures.

Most people don't place babies in harm's way. I've never seen anyone trying to train an infant to roll over, sit up straight, or to raise it's head up off the floor. If that sounds silly, it's because it is. Infants can't do what they can't do. And they will not stand idly by if you're forcing them to stand before they're ready. They will slump, and likely cry.

People have been raising babies for millennia, and doctors rarely see injuries or conditions caused by this manner of overeager parents.* Having a baby sit up early (allowing the legs to straddle properly) or to walk with assistance is fine; often the babies love and want to do this. They are eager to see and explore their world. Again, doing this (e.g. walking with assistance) will not happen if the baby hasn't already sent some time pushing himself into a standing position on the parent's lap.

Most parents want their child to succeed. Placing something continually out of their baby's reach is frustrating, and most people don't do this intentionally. If the baby tries and fails, parents will often adjust their expectations.

The idea that you can encourage a baby to do something before it is developmentally ready to is foreign to me.

*Having said this, children's bones and joints are different than those of adults. The most common unintentional injury inflicted on a child by overeager parents is a condition called nursemaid's elbow or radial head subluxation. This is not uncommon when a child is yanked by their arm when unwilling to follow an adult (hence the name nursemaid's elbow). It's often also caused in an attempt by a parent to save a child from falling by holding onto the child's hand (an understandable maneuver and usually done reflexively), less commonly by rough play and swinging a child by their arms. Gentle traction doesn't cause this. Lifting a very young child by the hands or arms might. It is good to note that there is no similar injury to the knee, hip, or shoulder. Bones do break more easily in young children. Falling on an outstretched arm can result in collar bone fractures. These are usually not readily preventable. Children love to run.

Baby’s First Year: How Infants Develop

  • Good answer. However, how many truly rational first time parents have you met? :) – Joe Jan 6 '15 at 15:57
  • Parents do place their children in "baby walkers" and might do so in the mistaken belief that their children will walk sooner. This report is overwhelmingly negative about these walkers. aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics;108/3/… You might also want to see "hot housing" and "baby einstein" for examples of parents who want to push things too fast. – DanBeale Jan 6 '15 at 19:02
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    @DanBeale Baby walkers aren't harmful to children. They're discouraged because of all the spills babies take in them because of parental negligence, most frequently down the stairs, associated with head injury and death. The AAP policy states: If a parent insists on using a mobile infant walker, it is vital that they choose a walker that meets the performance standards of ASTM F977-96 to prevent falls down stairs. Stationary activity centers should be promoted as a safer alternative to mobile infant walkers. Baby walkers do not help children, but they are not harmful with supervision. – anongoodnurse Jan 6 '15 at 21:03
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    @anongoodnurse thanks for the technical term for "nursemaids elbow" I had this happen frequently to me as a child-I had some kind of predisposition to it so that I couldn't even hang from monkey bars w/o risking a trip to the ER. I always thought my mom made up "nursemaid's elbow" since no one EVER knew what I was talking about! Glad to have the other name-not that I expect anyone to know what that is either... ;-P – Jax Jan 7 '15 at 2:47
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    @DanBeale - baby walkers were not a misguided effort on the part of parents to teach a child to walk. They were a form of entertainment for a child, and most children loved them, including my own. And, true to form, one of mine took a trip down some steps in one (only 3 steps, luckily). It was not without some sadness on my part that I started to recommend against them. Can you give me a reference for their use causing hip damage? – anongoodnurse Jan 7 '15 at 21:59

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