There’s no childhood milestone quite as exciting as watching your baby take their first wobbly step. It usually happens around their first birthday, but some babies walk sooner, some later.
Here’s what you need to know about your baby’s first steps.
When Do Babies Walk?
Your friend’s 10-month-old is already toddling around the house, while your 15-month-old has yet to take their first step. Not to worry; there’s a wide range of “normal” when it comes to babies and walking.
That first step can happen anytime between eight and 18 months and still fall in the normal range. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that you talk to your pediatrician if your child isn’t walking by 18 months.
And just because your baby takes a first step doesn’t mean they’ll immediately be running around the house. It takes babies at least four to six weeks of practice to get good at walking. Boys and girls learn to walk around the same time.
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Before Your Baby Walks
From a very young age, your baby slowly begins strengthening their muscles and working toward taking their first step. But before they can walk, babies:
- Roll over. To develop the muscles they need to stand, babies learn to roll over at about four to six months. Then, they’ll put weight on their forearms and hands to build skills for crawling.
- Crawl. Around six months, your baby may learn to crawl. They may crawl up on all fours or lying flat on their bellies. And some babies skip crawling and go straight to pulling up.
- Pull themselves up. In preparation for walking, your baby will pull up to a standing position, balancing by grabbing your hands or nearby furniture.
- Cruise. Your baby will “cruise” around a room by holding onto furniture. Good baby-proofing is essential when your baby starts moving, but moves to new heights once he or she is cruising.
How to Help Your Baby Walk
Know this: Your baby will walk when they’re ready. Expect plenty of falls along the way; it’s all part of learning. But there are things you can do to help your baby build balance, feel confident, and stay safe.
- During their awake times, give them plenty of “tummy time” to strengthen the muscles they need for walking.
- Clear a path. Baby-proof your house from your baby’s point of view. Pad any sharp furniture corners at your baby’s new, taller level.
- If you don’t already have them in place, put baby gates at stairways and any room you don’t want your baby entering.
- Tie up any hanging cords, string, or ribbon (like the pulls on blinds).
- Anchor or remove any furniture (like bookshelves) that your baby could climb on or pull over.
Are Infant Walkers Safe?
In a word, no. The AAP strongly advises against using a baby walker. With tougher safety standards, walker accidents have recently declined, but thousands of children are still injured in walkers every year.
Plus, baby walkers don’t help your baby learn to walk. In fact, using a walker can actually delay walking. In a walker, babies don’t develop the muscles they need to pull themselves upright, take independent steps, and balance without falling down.
Reasons for Late Walking
If your baby isn’t walking by 18 months, you should discuss your concerns with your pediatrician. Your child may have a developmental delay that needs further evatulation and treatment.
However, it could also be that your baby is simply developing motor skills a little slower than the average timeframe and will catch up in their own time. If your baby is on track with meeting other developmental milestones — waving goodbye, putting objects in a container — that’s probably the case, but it is still worth mentioning to your pediatrician. They can help you understand what may be needed to help them catch up.
However, there are other possible reasons for late walking.
- Being born prematurely. Many preemies meet developmental milestones later than full-term infants. You should measure your preemie’s progress from their due date, not their birth date.
- Lack of opportunity to practice. Babies who spend too much time being held or in car seats and strollers can sometimes have delayed walking. Infants need to move and play on the floor to develop the muscles needed for walking.
- A health problem. Conditions involving the bones, muscles, or nervous system (like cerebral palsy or hip dysplasia) can cause walking and other developmental delays. Recognizing the delay and its cause and then seeking treatment including therapy will help your child progress and reach their full potential.
It’s important to go to your baby’s well visits. During the visits, talk to your pediatrician about any questions or concerns you have about your baby’s walking or anything else.
American Academy of Pediatrics, Movement: Babies 8 to 12 Months, Link
AAP News, Study: Infant walker injuries support AAP's call for a ban, Link
Zero to Three, Getting Mobile, Link
CDC, Important Milestones: Your Child By One Year, Link
Harvard Health Publishing, Parents: Don't use a baby walker, Link
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Developmental Dislocation (Dysplasia) of the Hip (DDH), Link
From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.