Advertised as a protection for bruises, scrapes, and cuts, baby knee pads are one item you can leave off of your baby gear list. They are constructed as a stretchy sleeve with a firm cotton or silicone piece that slides over baby’s knee joint. When baby crawls, the pad goes down on the floor with baby’s knee and “protects” it from the hard surface. An important question to ask is how do these knee pads effect baby’s development of the motor milestone of crawling? Let’s evaluate knee pads by looking at three developmental tips that help baby learn to crawl.
CRAWLING TIP #1: DEVELOP PROPRIOCEPTION OF KNEES
Crawling occurs on the hands and knees when it is in its most efficient pattern. Some babies learn to crawl on the hands and feet (bear crawl), but most babies learn to crawl on their hands and knees. Developing a very clear feeling of the bones and muscles of her knee joints, which is called proprioception, baby feels more stable as they touch the ground and support her weight. With the knee pads the soft protective material in front of the knee may make it difficult to feel the physical sensation of the bones of the knees clearly pressing into the floor. It might be similar to an adult standing on a thick cushioned exercise mat rather than on a hardwood floor. The adult would feel more stable on the solid floor as well. Some babies feel distracted by the strange sensation around their knee and try to crawl while avoiding putting their knees down, in the bear crawl pattern.
Instead of buying knee pads, try tapping and gently squeezing her knee joint so she will feel it more clearly and remember that the firmness of the floor is helpful. She will feel more stable and balanced. Wearing a simple cotton pair of pants can also prevent scrapes. Remember that babies learn to crawl without knee pads on stone floors all over the world in countries such as Mexico and Israel.
CRAWLING TIP #2: IMPROVE FLEXION OF KNEES
To get into the hands and knees crawling positon, baby has to bend her knees, this is called “flexion.” Both the knees and the hips bend until the hands and knees are on the floor. Once baby begins to crawl, each “step” she takes requires bending the knee quite a bit. The knee pads may limit the bend in the knee joint. Although they are made of a flexible and sometimes thin material, it sits right in back of the joint and may diminish the range of motion to some extent. Full range of motion is essential for baby to achieve the optimal alignment for her skill development. I have seen videos of babies wearing knee pads where the pad rides up or twists around, limiting the flexion of the knees. Instead of wearing knee pads, try bending and extending her legs while she is lying on her back to remind her to bend her knee.
CRAWLING TIP #3: ALIGN HIPS AND KNEES
When the knees bend easily and she feels her knees firmly on the floor, baby easily achieves her proper alignment for crawling. The shoulders are placed more or less over the hands and the hips are placed over the knees. Wearing baby knees pads may lead to her knees sliding around a bit inside the pad or minimize the bend of her knee making good alignment difficult. Opt to leave the baby knee pads out of the gear bag.
Benefits of proper alignment include more strength or power in the motor milestone of crawling. If the knees are not quite under the hips baby may not get as strong of a push off of the floor. Starting from good alignment will also prepare her for standing and walking. Her body is learning to place her knees under her hips which is the same alignment for standing and walking. Initially, babies often walk with the feet a bit wide and then as their balance improves they bring their feet and knees more underneath their hips. If they are familiar with this hips-over-knees alignment when crawling, they will find it more easily in the motor skill of walking.