Is your baby a bottom shuffler and should you be worried?

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images 

Instead of crawling does your baby shuffle on its bum and pull itself along with one arm? If the answer is yes, then you have a bottom shuffler on your hands. 

One of my children was a bottom shuffler. She was really fast at getting around and skipped crawling altogether. One minute she was scooting around on her bottom, the next she was climbing and then she was walking. It was a strange thing to watch, but she seemed very happy and it wasn't stopping her from getting places. 

Instead of getting worn knees in all her clothes like her sisters, we had to get her new pants because the backsides were always shredded from dragging herself over the ground.

At the time we were a little worried, but she's nine now and out of all our kids she's the most active. Any concerns I had when she was a baby that bottom shuffling would impact on her development are long gone.

If you're not familiar with bottom shuffling, it's when a baby sits on the floor and shuffles themselves around by pulling with their feet to shuffle their bottom forwards. Sometimes children will have one hand down to help drag them forward, other times the baby might keep both arms up in the air and will just use their legs to move around.

Emily Hayles, physiotherapist and owner of the children's therapy service Move and Play Paediatric Therapy said bottom shuffling was a common form of movement.

"Similar to rolling, creeping on their belly, and crawling, bottom shuffling is just one way that babies and children might learn to move along the floor in the lead up to them eventually learning to walk," Ms Hayles said.

"When bottom shuffling is used by a baby occasionally, and not all the time, it is considered a normal variant – it is just one of the many ways that a child learns to move around the floor and is usually combined with several other ways of getting around. 

"As long as the child is not using bottom shuffling all the time, and is only using it occasionally, then it is usually no cause for concern."

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The question is why do some babies bottom shuffle and others don't? Well, it could come down to not enjoying being on their tummies or not doing enough tummy time when they were newborns.

"This might be because the baby had reflux, or maybe they were floppier babies, or they just did not like tummy time and so it was difficult for them to get lots of practice being on their tummy," she said.

"Not practicing being on their tummy means these babies don't get the same opportunities to strengthen then back, neck, shoulder and arm muscles that they otherwise would from playing on their belly, propping and pushing on their arms, and creeping around on their belly. 

"Once these babies then learn to sit by themselves, their drive to move and explore their environment increases, and so if they can't move around on their tummy, they instead figure out how to bottom shuffle to get themselves around."

While it isn't thought to delay the progression to walking, it can be problematic for a few reasons, but mainly it limits the opportunities to build strength in the arms and abdominal muscles. 

So, it's advised parents try to encourage their babies to crawl.

"The best thing parents can do to try and prevent their child from ending up bottom shuffling is to ensure they get lots of tummy time practise – lying, playing, and moving on their tummy," she said.

"The more a child develops movement competence when they are on their tummy, the more likely they will then go on to crawling as expected."

However, if your baby does end up bottom shuffling, there are ways you can help them learn to crawl. 

Ms Hayles suggested, positioning your baby on their hands and knees in a long narrow space (such as a crawling tunnel). In order to move forwards, your baby will need to crawl as the space will be too narrow to bottom shuffle.

Yet, if you still have concerns see a medical professional.

"If you are concerned about your baby bottom shuffling, then it is always a good idea to get them checked out by a physio or occupational therapist (OT) experienced in child development," she said.

"The physio or OT can assess your baby to determine if there is an underlying cause for their bottom shuffling, and give you some strategies, exercises and tips to help you to teach your baby how to move in a different way."