One of every parent’s proudest moments happens when your baby takes their first wobbly and uncertain steps. From that moment on, life is about to get busy! Although you may think you have your home sufficiently babyproofed, nothing can quite prepare you for a curious and mobile toddler.
Even before the thought of your baby learning to walk crosses your mind, they have been preparing themselves for this moment, beginning with rolling and progressing to sitting, creeping, shuffling, crawling, standing independently, and cruising. Each accomplishment signifies a gross motor milestone culminating in those adorable first steps.
Some babies take a while to find their feet (in every sense of the word). For others, the process of learning to walk might seem effortless. Regardless of when your baby takes their first steps, learning to walk follows a typical timeline for most. Once your baby is confidently on the move, they will increasingly master their gross motor control and subsequently progress to running, jumping, and climbing.
This article looks at the signs that your baby is almost ready to walk and provides tips to encourage walking and movement.
When can you expect your child to start walking?
Most babies start walking independently at around 10-14 months of age. By the time they turn 9 months old, most babies are able to pull themselves into a standing position using furniture or other stationary objects. They will progress to cruising (moving along while holding onto the couch, bed, or coffee table) before walking on their own.
Some babies are more cautious and will take their time to become more stable before trying to walk without help. Others may have a relaxed temperament and be content to sit and observe. Little ones who are high-energy or more adventurous may try walking earlier. If either mom or dad was an early or late walker, the baby might develop on a similar timeline. It is also worth remembering that babies born preterm may seem a bit behind their peers but are actually right on track based on their developmental age.
Even before learning to walk, babies need to strengthen the muscles required for standing. Tummy time, rolling over and sitting all help build these muscles and should be encouraged.
Stages of walking: Baby’s walking timeline
Learning is a progressive process that will happen at your baby’s own pace, and there is no specific length of time for a baby to learn to walk. Most babies progress through the same stages of learning to walk—although some impatient tots might miss some of these stages altogether or action them simultaneously. Babies often resort to the technique that gets them to their destination faster or with the least effort.
In chronological order, here is a rough guide to the developmental stages of learning to walk:
- Crawling: Early developers might begin crawling sooner, but for most babies, crawling starts at 7-10 months of age. You might see your baby rocking back and forth on their hands and knees before they start to coordinate their forward movement.
- Creeping: The strength in a baby’s arms develops before leg strength (thanks to all that lovely tummy time). Some babies use this strength to pull themselves forward without the help of their legs.
- Scooting: When babies slide or creep along on their bottoms in a sitting position, using their limbs to move them ahead, this is called scooting. Your little one might also scoot along on their belly—the leopard crawl technique.
- Cruising: Once leg muscle strength is sufficient and your baby can pull themselves into a standing position, they will use furniture and other household items to support them as they “cruise” around.
- Independent walking: At some point—and often because there is a favorite item just out of reach—your baby will let go of their support and take their first wobbly steps. During this beginning stage, your baby’s legs are usually spread wide apart and their arms held out as they focus on maintaining their balance. Regularly sitting or falling and bumping into things is expected at this stage, but this would decrease as your toddler’s confidence, strength, and balance improve.
Signs that your baby is ready to walk
Sleep regression is common at around the same time as babies are learning the skills needed for walking—so if your baby’s sleep routine is upset, this may be why. If your little one has progressed through one or more of the earlier stages of walking and is spending more time standing or trying to stand on their own, they may be ready for those first steps. By this time, they may use standing push toys with confidence.
Tips to get your baby or toddler walking
This video offers some excellent tips for what you as a parent can do to help your baby learn and develop the skills needed to walk.
To get your baby walking, you need to start early and encourage activities to build their core strength and strengthen the leg muscles required for successful walking. As mentioned, tummy time, crawling (and other locomotion methods), and standing are all excellent strengthening exercises.
What toys are best to encourage walking?
If you’re looking for ways to encourage your baby to walk, you might also want to consider buying a push toy such as a Fisher-Price Walker, V-Tech sit-to-stand learning walker, or a wooden push-pull cart with building blocks. These walkers give your child the stability they need while allowing them to move independently.
They also include bright and colorful “onboard” activities to engage your baby’s curiosity. You must ensure that the surface is non-slip and that you’ve securely barricaded the stairs to prevent accidents. Other push/pull toys such as mini shopping carts or lawnmowers can also help build the confidence to walk.
Once your baby has mastered the skills required for walking and you think they are ready to take their first steps, you can entice them away from whatever they are holding on to using one of their favorite toys.
You may wonder about using a baby walker. Old-style baby walkers are not considered safe for babies and are not recommended for use, even though they might give your baby some freedom of movement.
In addition to the safety factors, babies placed in such walkers for extended periods may struggle to align their hips, knees, and feet in the correct gait for independent walking. Additionally, they may walk on tiptoe or take longer to develop leg muscle strength. Research has shown that using a walker may even delay walking independently.
Best shoes for walking
Barefoot is best for beginner walkers (with non-slip socks being fine on cooler days). Not just to help build muscle tone and arch development. Being barefoot helps little feet get accurate sensory feedback, which is vital for learning balance and coordination skills. If you need shoes outdoors or in colder weather, they should be lightweight and flexible.
Moccasin-style shoes with soft leather or rubber soles will offer grip and protection while allowing for natural foot movement. If you select a shoe with a more solid sole, it should be broad enough to fit comfortably, and your toddler’s toes should have plenty of wiggle room.
When should you worry?
Although it can be stressful if your child seemingly starts walking a little later than other babies, most babies walk by 15 months. If by this time your baby has shown no interest in walking, if you notice movement difficulty such as stiffness, leaning or stumbling to one side, you should mention this to your pediatrician or family doctor.
Flat feet, walking pigeon-toed or with toes pointing outwards, looking a bit bow-legged, and walking on tiptoes are not unusual for toddlers under 2 years old. You can also speak to your child’s pediatrician if these persist beyond this age.
Learning to walk is a significant milestone in a child’s development and is something to be celebrated. Once they have mastered walking, your toddler will soon be preparing to run, jump, climb, and skip and before you know it, you will be teaching them to ride their first bike.
Mobility is a keystone of independence and will allow your child to interact with and explore the world around them. By considering how the world looks from your toddler’s perspective, you will be able to ensure that they have a safe environment even once they are walking.