Your baby’s first steps are an exciting milestone that you’ll never forget. Babies typically begin walking when they are between 8 and 18 months old. But the preparation for this important event starts long before. To be able to walk, your baby needs to not only develop muscle strength, but also master many skills like coordination, balance, standing up, and being able to support their weight on one leg and then the other.
From rolling over, sitting, and shuffling to crawling, cruising, and standing, your baby moves through different developmental stages as they gear up for their big adventure – walking.
Babies are naturally motivated to walk as they mature. So, by around 6 to 13 months they would have started crawling, and then between 9 and 12 months, you’ll find that they pull themselves up and try to stand.1 While you can’t and shouldn’t rush your baby through any of these developmental stages, you can help them along from the sidelines. Here’s how!
1. Get Creative As They Start Crawling
After your baby learns to sit, they will gradually discover that they can dig in with their knees and push off where they want. This opens up their world – in terms of how they see it as well as what they can do! Your baby’s initial attempts might be a little clumsy. They might wobble as they try to support their weight on their arms, crawl backward or sideways. Some babies even shuffle on their bottoms by pushing with their legs and arms. And all this activity is strengthening their muscles and preparing them for the next step.2
Entice: Put your baby on a carpet or blanket on the floor and place a favorite toy or interesting object just out of their reach. This will encourage them to crawl to it.
Create games: As they get more nimble, create an obstacle course for them to crawl between and over, using pillows or cushions. You can join in their play by hiding behind an obstacle for a round of “peekaboo!” But don’t leave your baby alone during this game – they could fall between pillows and may be frightened or unable to get back up.
Let them spend time on the tummy: Spending some time on the tummy as part of their regular routine can help strengthen muscles in their neck, leg, and back. This will stand them in good stead when they crawl.3
2. Give Them A Hand When They Stand Up
Although crawling may have made a significant difference to your baby’s life, don’t expect them to remain content with that! Seeing everyone else is doing this exciting new thing – walking – is going to egg them on. As preparation for walking, they will pull themselves up and stand when they get a chance.4
Get baby on their feet: Try holding your baby in a standing position. This can be done in various ways – for instance, you can stand your baby on your lap when you’re sitting down or in front of the couch or coffee table. This lets them experience their weight on their feet. You may also find that your baby bounces up and down when you do this – that’ll help strengthen muscles in their legs.
Hold and prop up: When your baby is ready to stand, kneel on the floor in front of a low sofa with them on your lap. Make sure the baby’s feet are on the floor. Place a toy on the sofa and urge them to hold onto the sofa and reach for it. Keep your hands on their hips and help them into a standing position by moving their hip forward as they straighten their leg.
Show them how to sit back down: As your baby becomes stronger, they’ll require less support and will use their hands to support themselves on the sofa. But at first, when a baby starts pulling themselves up to stand on their own, they may not be able to get back down. So, they may flop down or cry for help. Show them how it’s done by physically bending their knees so that they can get back on the floor.5
3. Egg Them On As They Get Cruising
After your baby is confident about standing they’ll be excited about exploring their first steps. This will usually start as a process known as “cruising,” which is a side step or shuffle along furniture. Holding on to furniture and walking along will help your baby develop balance and strength and is the last step before they start walking on their own.
Motivate!: When your baby’s standing by a sofa or table, place a toy in front of them but out of their reach. This will encourage them to step toward it by holding onto the furniture.6
4. Step It Up As They Gain Confidence
As your baby’s confidence goes up, they’ll cruise along by first holding on with just one hand and will eventually let go of the furniture. At first, they may be a little shaky when they start walking on their own. You may find that they grab hold of support when they start tottering or that they drop to the floor. But they’ll get the hang of it soon enough. Children can progress from their first tentative independent steps to more assured walking within days.
Lead and support: Try walking along with your baby and holding their hands till they’re ready to go it alone. You can also offer your hand as support when they totter.
Be safe and be brave!: Do keep in mind though that a few spills and falls are to be expected when your baby starts walking. Make sure you remove unsafe objects from their path but don’t get unduly unnerved when they fall. A reassuring word and quick hug can work wonders at soothing them and send them off exploring again.7
Get the right toys: Push-along toys can be helpful and fun when babies walking on their own. Go for heavier trolley-style toys which will be more stable.8
Apart from supporting them at each stage, as a parent, you can follow these dos and don’ts to help your baby along.
5. Give Them Lots Of Appreciation
You already know that your baby responds to appreciation. Clapping your hands or telling them that they’re doing a great job when they stand up on their own or take their first step can be really encouraging for your baby.
6. Babyproof Your Home
Make sure you babyproof your home before your baby starts crawling. This involves securing items like TVs or bookcases so that they can’t fall on your baby, covering electrical sockets, and removing small objects that can be swallowed and medicines away from your baby’s reach. Cover sharp edges of furniture with protective padding and put in safety gates in front of the staircase. Also, do keep in mind that a crawling baby needs to be supervised as they can quickly find ways of getting into trouble.9
7. Let Them Go Barefoot
Allow your baby to walk barefoot where it’s safe for them to do so. The restriction of a shoe can affect the natural functional and structural development of your baby’s foot. Going barefoot can help your baby develop ligaments and muscles in the foot, strengthen their foot’s arch, and improve posture. It’s also easier for your little tot to use their flexible feet rather than stiff, rigid shoes, particularly when they’re learning to walk.10
8. Give The Baby A Daily Massage
Massaging your baby can help in their development as it promotes coordination and movement. And according to experts, babies who are massaged have better balance when they start walking.11 12 Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you.
9. Don’t Use Baby Walkers
A baby walker can increase the chances of your baby having an accident and deprive them of the opportunity to strengthen muscles that they need for walking. So the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents not use baby walkers.13 14
10. Check In With A Doctor If They Don’t Start Walking By 18 Months
Though children can show quite some variation in how they develop, normal development does tend to follow a general pattern. So, if your baby doesn’t walk by the age of 18 months, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor. Also, once they start walking, look for signs of progress. They should gradually learn to walk with the hands by the side, legs together, aside from placing their whole feet firmly on the ground. They must also be able to negotiate stairs with help.15
|↑1||Learning to walk. Healthdirect Australia.|
|↑2||Your baby’s development: physical stages . NCT.|
|↑3, ↑7, ↑13||Movement: 8 to 12 Months. American Academy of Pediatrics.|
|↑4||Movement: 8 to 12 Months. American Academy of Pediatrics|
|↑5, ↑6, ↑8, ↑14||Helping a baby develop standing and stepping. NHS Foundation Trust.|
|↑9||Making your home safe for baby. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.|
|↑10||Why barefoot is best for children. The Guardian.|
|↑11||Infant Massage: Why It’s Worth Celebrating. Attachment Parenting Uk.|
|↑12||Baby massage. Women’s and Children’s Health Network.|
|↑15||Movement, Coordination, and Your 1- to 2-Year-Old. Nemours Foundation.|