Don’t let the one-tooth grin, chubby arms and baby talk fool you. Inside the cutest package ever burns a fierce determination to do the impossible: walk.
But when should your baby start walking, and what are the signs it’s going to happen soon? Pediatrician Michele Marshall, MD, has your baby-walking bible.
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When babies start walking
While the average age for babies to start walking is about 12 months, some take their first steps even earlier or much later. “Babies can start walking as early as 9 months,” Dr. Marshall says. “It’s also normal for babies to take more time and start walking at 17 or 18 months.”
Once they get going, they may not master this new skill right away. “Expect that wide-based gait for a while,” Dr. Marshall says. “It takes a bit of time to get their balance. Your child might not be up and running until around 15 to 18 months old.”
Signs your baby will walk soon
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How do you know your baby is getting close to life on the go? At around 9 to 12 months, watch for these signs your baby will walk soon:
- Pulling to a stand.
- “Cruising,” or holding onto something while walking.
- Standing without support.
While some babies crawl, too, it’s not necessarily a prerequisite to walking. “Some babies only commando crawl (pulling themselves along on their stomach). Others crawl on their hands and knees or skip crawling altogether,” Dr. Marshall notes. “What’s most important is the ability to independently pull themselves up to a complete stand. That’s the big milestone that occurs just before babies start independently walking.”
How to encourage walking in babies (safely)
If your little one just can’t seem to get over the hump, Dr. Marshall recommends a few ways to encourage your baby to walk:
- Lend a hand: Once your baby can pull to a stand, hold their hands to help them take steps.
- Use props: “Push toys can be helpful. They’ve got four points on the floor, so they’re very steady, and your child can use them for support as they pull up and move along,” Dr. Marshall says. Common household items can do the trick, too. Flip over a laundry basket, which is typically babies’ height and will steadily scooch along with them as they stand or push it.
- Avoid baby walkers: Baby walkers are devices with wheels that you sit your child in to propel themselves around. “They can be dangerous around open doors and stairs and can also get stuck in places,” Dr. Marshall warns.
She also cautions against leaving your child unattended as they practice their new skill. “If you need to step away for a minute, put your baby in a play area that they can’t escape from or in their crib or portable playard. Babies always find something to get into, so the best thing to do is get down on all fours and look around to see any dangers you need to block off.”
When should your baby start wearing shoes?
While tiny shoes can melt even the hardest of hearts, they’re not necessary for a child to learn to walk properly.
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“We need shoes when we’re protecting our feet or going outside,” Dr. Marshall says, “but within the home, bare feet or socks with rubber grips on the bottom are just fine.”
In fact, being barefoot may help your child feel the floor better, which could actually help them move along.
When to talk to your doctor about your baby’s walking
Keep in mind that what’s healthy and normal for one child may not be for another. Every child grows and develops at their own pace.
Talk to your pediatrician, though, if your child achieves all the milestones leading up to walking but isn’t walking independently by 18 months old. Those milestones include:
- Rolling over in both directions (between 4 to 6 months).
- Sitting without support (typically 6 to 7 months).
- Pulling to a stand.
“If they’re achieving all of those, be patient because they may just need more time,” Dr. Marshall says. “But if you have any concerns about when your baby should be walking or meeting other physical milestones, we’re here to help.”
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