Seeing your baby take its first step is one of the most thrilling experiences that a new parent can go through and eagerly awaits. But as is the case with all developmental milestones, each child will develop and mature at its own pace, so be patient as you wait for your little one to make that first move towards walking independently and don’t fall into the trap of comparing your baby’s development pace with that of other children. Until then, learn more about how children learn to walk and how to recognize when your soon-to-be toddler needs help.
When Walking Begins
As with all developmental milestones, it’s important to remember that children will develop at their own pace and hence there is no exact age when children must begin to walk. In general, babies take their first step between their 9th and 18th month; babies grow in strength and improve their coordination throughout their first year, learning to sit, crawl and roll over before they learn to pull themselves up and eventually cruise from one piece of furniture to the next by their 9th month. The more practice babies get in cruising and standing, the greater their confidence and sense of balance will become, preparing them both mentally and physically for that first independent step (which usually happens around between their 9th and 12th month).
How Babies Learn to Walk
Babies go through a learning process as they strengthen their muscles, develop their sense of balance and grow in confidence to take their first step. The stages that babies go through to learn to walk include the following phases:
• Walking Reflex: Newborn babies in their first few weeks will exhibit what is known as the walking or stepping reflex, which is when they push against a hard surface when held upright with their feet touching it. This reflex tends to disappear after a baby’s second month, and doesn’t last more than 3-4 weeks.
• Balancing Act: Infants in their 5th month will begin to learn to balance themselves when placed in a standing position on their parents’ thighs or on a hard surface while supported, and will most often begin to bounce. This is the babies’ way of developing their muscles and this phase usually lasts until the baby is 8 months old.
• Standing & Cruising: Most babies will begin to attempt pulling themselves into a standing position by their 8th month, and once this is no longer a challenge, your child will begin to practice cruising from one furniture piece to the next. Your little one might even develop enough muscle strength by then to stand unsupported for a few seconds, and might try to pick up a toy from a standing position by stooping. If this is the case, begin training your baby to take steps away from furniture while holding onto your hands.
• Squatting & Sitting: 9 and 10-month-old babies that have learned to stand will start to learn how to bend at the knees and ease into a sitting position from a standing one. Children in their 11th month will usually have learned to stand, bend over and squat well enough to not fall over too often. If your baby can do these things, chances are it will also be getting better at walking when holding onto your hand or finger.
• Walking Solo: If your baby hasn’t started taking those first independent steps by its 12th month, it might start doing so by its 14th month. Some babies can reach their 17th month before they learn how to walk on their own. Until then, be as supportive of your little one as you can, and be patient. If you’re concerned about your baby’s development pace, discuss the matter with your pediatrician.
When to Call the Doctor
While it’s true that different babies will reach their developmental milestones at different paces, it’s usually best to check with your pediatrician if your baby hasn’t begun to walk by its first birthday. You needn’t be concerned as long as your baby is continuously acquiring new skills and is crawling, rolling over, and scooting. If your child seems to be lagging behind in terms of learning new things, discuss the matter with your pediatrician.