Baby's First Steps
Your baby learning to walk on their own can be one of the most exciting and memorable moments of parenthood. From a very young age, your baby strengthens their muscles by rolling, sitting up, shuffling on their bottom, crawling, cruising furniture, and standing. During this time, they've been slowly working up to take their first steps.
Most babies will start walking between about 10 and 18 months old, although some babies may walk as early as 9 months old.
How Babies Develop Walking Skills
Your baby will develop many skills, including balance, coordination, standing up, and supporting their body weight from one leg to the other. Each new skill will build upon the previous skills, making them more prepared to start walking.
Watching your baby take their first steps on their own is an experience you'll never forget. When your baby does start walking, it happens in stages, which include these big milestones:
6 months. Babies start to sit up on their own.
6-9 months. Babies start crawling.
9 months. Babies begin to pull themselves up on furniture, like the couch or coffee table, so they can stand.
9-12 months. Babies may start to stand up, hold on to furniture, and explore the room.
11-13 months. During this exciting time, you can expect to see your baby start to walk on their own.
Keep in mind that each baby is different and may start walking earlier or later than the average age, which is about 12 months. Child development can vary a lot, and that's totally normal.
Talk to your pediatrician if your baby is 18 months or older and hasn’t started walking on their own even though they've passed the milestones that lead to walking. The milestones that lead to walking include:
- Rolling over in both directions
- Sitting without support
- Pulling themselves up into a stand
- Furniture cruising (when your baby uses furniture to support themselves while they take a few sliding steps in between)
If your baby has passed the milestones that lead to walking but hasn't started walking yet, they may just need a little more time. But if you have concerns because your baby isn't meeting their developmental milestones, talk to your pediatrician.
Reasons for Late Walking in Babies
Some reasons for late walking are:
Delayed motor maturation. This happens when the baby's motor skills are normal but take longer than average to develop. If either or both of the baby's biological parents were also late walkers, this is more likely.
Learning disabilities. When babies have learning disabilities, there's usually a delay in all their developmental areas, including walking.
Conditions that affect the development of muscle tone and power, such as:
- Cerebral palsy, a group of disorders that affect a person's ability to move and maintain their balance and posture
- Muscular dystrophy, a genetic condition that causes loss of muscle mass and increased weakness over time
- Down syndrome, a condition where a person has an extra copy of chromosome (a gene package) 21. This extra chromosome changes how the baby's body and brain develop.
- Prader-Willi syndrome, a condition where a person is missing part of one of their copies of chromosome 15. This missing genetic information causes weak muscles, trouble eating, poor growth, and delays in development.
- Tay-Sachs disease, a genetic condition that causes nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord to die
- Williams syndrome, a developmental disorder that affects many parts of the body
Environmental factors that affect brain development or milestones that lead to walking, such as:
- Infections or exposure to toxins in the biological mother before birth
- Problems that the mother had during pregnancy, including a hemorrhage or high blood pressure (preeclampsia)
- Premature birth
- Infections in the infant, such as meningitis, encephalitis, and cytomegalovirus
- Head injury to the infant
- Malnutrition, such as rickets
- A high level of bilirubin in the infant that causes neurological damage (kernicterus)
Signs Your Baby Will Walk Soon
Some signs that your baby will walk soon are:
Pulling themselves up to stand. This is the biggest milestone and the most important sign that your baby is getting ready to walk on their own.
Standing without support
Crawling. Your baby may or may not crawl. Some babies skip crawling. If they do crawl, they may do so on their hands and knees or use their arms to pull themselves along on their stomach.
Ways to Help Your Baby Start Walking
To help your baby start walking, you can try the following tips:
Play together. When you’re around your baby, you can help them feel safer during playtime. That way, they have higher confidence and are more comfortable exploring.
Encourage moving. Moving around helps your baby build their muscles, which will help them when they start walking and eventually running. You can do this by kneeling in front of your baby, holding out your hands, and encouraging them to come to you.
While toddlers are beginning to walk, it's normal for them to take a few spills; that's just a part of learning. While you can't save your baby from every fall, you can reduce the chance of injury.
You can help them by "baby-proofing" your home to make their space as safe as possible:
- Put locks on doors and cabinets to help keep your baby away from unsafe items, like chemicals.
- Pad sharp corners of furniture.
- Install a child-proof gate to prevent your baby from going down stairs.
- Keep items like pots and pans on the back of your stovetop.
Baby Products for Walking
Baby walkers. Medical professionals do not recommend using baby walkers. Because a walker makes it easier for your baby to get around, their leg muscles may not develop well enough to walk on their own. Also, when a baby is propped up on a baby walker, it can be easier for them to get into things they normally wouldn’t be able to reach, like hot items or poisons that could be dangerous. This makes baby walkers even less safe.
Baby walking shoes. Babies and toddlers don't need to wear shoes unless they're going outside. Letting your baby walk and crawl barefoot helps their feet and toes develop the muscles they need to walk. If it's cold, they can wear socks or you can dress them in a footed onesie.
Once your baby starts walking outside, it's important to pick shoes that fit well. Each time you buy your baby shoes, have their foot measured. You're looking for shoes that:
- Fit the natural shape of their foot, especially around their toes
- Allow their toes to move freely
- Allow about ½ inch of room between their longest toe and the end of the shoe so they have room to grow
- Aren't too loose or tight around their heel
- Are made of natural fibers, if possible. Children sweat a lot from their feet, so their shoes need to breathe.
Your baby's feet grow fast. So to make sure your baby's shoes aren't too tight, check the fit of their shoes and socks every 1-3 months until they're 3 years old and every 4 months until they're 5 years old.
What’s Next After Your Baby Starts Walking?
Your baby's first steps are only the beginning of an exciting new phase in their life. Here's what else you can expect as they become a toddler:
- 14 months: At this age, your toddler will likely be able to stand on their own, squat, stand back up, and maybe even walk backward.
- 15 months: Your child will be pretty good at walking and will likely enjoy push-and-pull toys and exploring new things.
- 16 months: Your baby will start to show an interest in going up and down stairs, although they will likely still look to you for help with this one.
- 18 months: By 18 months, your child will probably have the walking thing down and enjoy moving around on their own. They’ll probably enjoy climbing on furniture and dancing to music, too.
As your child gains more confidence and independence, it opens up all kinds of new opportunities. It’s an exciting time, so don't forget to enjoy it.