A baby is only a baby so long. As much as a mom loves to snuggle her little infant, it isn't long — sometimes less than a year — before that baby turns into a toddler. And like every milestone up until that point, a mom feels equal parts fear, anticipation and pride as the baby starts walking.
Once a baby gets mobile, the house needs an entirely new level of baby-proofing. And moms have to worry about bumps and bruises, keeping baby safe and all the other things that can enhance the stress of motherhood.
Walking is just the beginning. It's the first stage of independence that comes before the terrible twos and the first day of school and taking off the training wheels on a bike and going on a first date and eventually leaving for college. There are so many more milestones to come, but walking begins the, well, baby steps in growing up. There will be a few stumbles along the way, but that's OK.
But, first things first. We're here to give you a guide on how to help make sure that baby hits that milestone in stride.
Here are 15 important things to know before the baby starts walking.
Walking is one milestone that will be found on the checklists of many months on the baby's development updates from apps. That's because there is a wide disparity in when it will happen. Some babies start walking as soon as nine months or so. Others wait until closer to their second birthday.
According to Parents, about half of babies begin walking before or around their first birthday. That number goes to 90 percent by 15 months, but there are plenty of babies who are perfectly normal who don't begin walking until about 18 or 19 months. It can be hard for mothers to look at their child's development without comparing to other babies, but the doctor won't be too concerned until well after the 1-year mark. Each baby has his or her own timeline, but unless there is a known disability, moms can rest assured that the baby is likely to figure it out eventually.
14 Family Factors
There are several factors that can explain why one baby is quicker to start walking than another. They aren't definitive and some kids' timing may have more to do with biology and personality, but doctors do consider these when figuring out when to worry about a later walker.
For example, a child that has older siblings may get carried around more. Their parents may have less time to work with them. Or it's possible that the baby has a bigger desire to walk because he wants to keep up with a sibling who is closer to his age, like a toddler. In addition, parents who are really into the trend of baby-wearing may not be giving their little one a chance at being on the ground and trying walking on their own.
As you can see, the family dynamic may have a lot to do with how the baby is encouraged or discouraged from walking. Parents who want to encourage the baby to talk may want to consider talking about it as a household to get the baby moving quicker.
13 Walkers Don't Work
Many parents love to give their little ones the opportunity to play in an exersaucer or a walker or one of those jumper things that hang from the doorway. But according to Baby Center, those things only seem like they could be helping the baby in learning to walk. They may actually be hurting the baby's chances by failing to boost the right muscles. (Plus, the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the use of walkers because they are unsafe and babies could get hurt going down stairs or hitting objects.)
The exersaucer seems like a great way to help a baby practice standing, but experts say that it's better to work the baby's trunk and pelvic muscles through tummy time and floor play. The same muscle issue can be said for other toys that help a baby stay upright when they don't have to use their own muscles to do it. It's not that those toys are bad; they should just be used sparingly and the baby should still have plenty of time to play on the floor.
12 Muscle Tone
Walking is a physical activity, so it makes sense that a baby has to be ready physically to take those first steps. Muscle tone can make a big difference. If a baby has low muscle tone, which is known as hypotonia, she may struggle to keep her balance and mover her floppy limbs in a coordinated way.
It's also difficult to walk if a baby's muscle tone is too high. That's called hypertonia, and it usually involves certain muscles being overactive. The baby has stiff limbs, and that can also make it difficult to keep balanced.
The muscles in the legs aren't the only ones that are important for walking. The pelvic muscles, the abdominal muscles and the back muscles also have to be in sync to keep a person balanced and coordinated enough to walk. Most babies don't need to work out to find the right tone, but if a parent notices a problem, they should ask the pediatrician.
11 Hip Issue
While there are a number of developmental issues that could make it harder to a baby to learn to walk, one of the most common physical conditions is called dysplasia of the hip. It can happen in the uterus or during birth based on the position that the baby is in in the womb and birth hormones. Sometimes, it can happen after birth when a baby is swaddled too tight in the hip area.
Hip instability can happen for as many as one in three babies, according to Kids Health. Most of the time, it is mild and the baby heals on his own. Sometimes, it's more severe and needs treatment, and in rare cases, a baby's hip can get dislocated.
Usually, a pediatrician will pick up on dysplasia long before the baby old enough to start walking. They can help with therapies to help, and it shouldn't delay the baby much in reaching this milestone.
10 Baby Gait
Who doesn't love to see the wobbly sweet gait of a baby taking a few cute steps and falling over? The way a little one toddles is not only adorable, but it could point toward an issue that could affect the way that they grow.
To figure out the issue, watch the way the toes point. If they point in toward each other, it's called pigeon-toed or in-toeing. Or they could point out, known as out-toeing. The abnormality is usually due to the tilt of the tibia or femur or the curve of the foot. Like hip dysplasia, this could be due to the way the baby was cramped in the womb, and very often the baby will outgrow it.
Parents should keep an eye on it as the baby learns to walk, but they shouldn't worry unless the baby is limping or in pain or if one foot turns more than the other. If it gets worse or doesn't get better by age 3, definitely talk to a doctor.
Before a baby walks, he's going to cruise. That's the term for standing up, holding onto furniture or, well, any object, and supporting himself while he makes his way across the room. It's the first stage of moving upright, using objects to keep their balance.
It's good practice for baby — and even better for parents. Cruising is the opportunity for parents to figure out how to baby proof everything at the height of their little one. This is the point where baby will find danger spots like tablecloths, sharp corners on tables, garbage cans, plant pots and unsteady furniture. Parents are put to the task of finding them first.
Moms and dads learn quickly that a magazine pile on the coffee table is no longer safe, but they may miss something more important. This is the key practice time for both, so take advantage.
8 Trouble Spots
We just talked a little bit about trouble spots, but it's worth going into more depth for some of the trouble spots that could be dangerous for a newly walking toddler. Furniture can definitely be tricky, and anything with a sharp corner may need to be moved or covered.
Baby gates are key to keeping the baby out of areas that the parents don't want them in. The kitchen is a key consideration, especially if the baby can reach the controls on the oven or the dishwasher. Also, pay attention to doorways and windows. Any kind of cord for a window treatment could be dangerous if the baby starts to fall and gets tangled up.
A baby learning to walk is likely to fall a few times, and it's best to keep any potential pitfalls to a minimum. That's what baby proofing is all about at this stage.
One certainty about the baby learning to walk is it is just a matter of time until the baby learns to run. And believe us when we tell you this, there is nothing more alarming for a parent than when her kid takes off running, whether it's in a parking lot or in the middle of a store.
Some kids stick pretty close to their parents, but when they are learning their independence, running is often the biggest temptation. Moms love it when their baby runs to them for a hug, but they hate it when they take off in the other direction, heading full speed for a playground or a grandparent even if there is a busy street in between.
Those backpacks with handles on them that look like dog leashes were invented because of the kids who run, and whether you judge them or not, most of the time the parents who use them do it because they had a big scare when their child took off. It's best to keep an eye — or a hand — on a baby who is learning to walk for fear that he will soon run. It will happen someday soon.
We've mentioned before that parents should watch baby's toes, but we haven't mentioned all the possibilities yet. Instead of the direction that the toe is pointed, this section is about whether the baby walks on their toes — well, not really their toes, but the balls of their feet.
It wasn't one of the first things we mentioned because many, many babies begin learning to walk by putting their weight on the balls of their feet. But most kids outgrow it and distribute their weight evenly by their second birthday or so. At that point, a parent should definitely talk to their doctor.
It could just be a habit, but it could also involve a problem with the tendons on the foot. Toe-walking could also be a result of a movement disorder like cerebral palsy. It has also been linked to children on the autism spectrum. The doctor could recommend therapies or even surgery, if it is a tendon issue. If toe-walking isn't corrected it could lead to foot problems, so it is definitely a good thing to notice and talk to the doctor about.
In the beginning, just about every baby is bowlegged. It's no wonder, since they spend nine months all squished inside their mom's belly. The baby's leg bones are actually a little soft while they are being formed, and according to Parents, they can curve because of the long stretch of not being able to, well, stretch out their legs. As they grow and bear weight on their legs, the bones straighten up, but that takes time.
Since most babies bend their knees as they try to get their balance, babies can seem more bowlegged than they actually are. But over time, it should get better. Doctors usually notice if the baby is more bowlegged than normal, but if it gets worse, parents should definitely consult a specialist. Baby's bones are in a fragile at this stage of development. It's important that they get straightened out before they are permanently bowed.
4 Baby Balance
Sometimes, a baby could have trouble taking those early steps because they are having a hard time with balance. It can be scary enough letting go of mom or dad's fingers to take the first step even without being unsure how to stay upright.
There are some skeletal and neurological conditions that can affect balance, but the most common problems may be something that parents don't realize. It involves one of the most common illnesses that impacts babies — ear infections. The inner ear is linked to vertigo, so a lot of the time the baby can feel dizzy, but she doesn't have the ability to explain what's wrong.
A doctor may be able to pick up on a balance issue during an exam, especially an audiology exam. They may be able to provide some answers and help solve them so that baby has no fear taking that first step.
3 Shoe Shopping
Moms may not want to wait to buy their baby his first pair of shoes. But it may be better to save the money. The good news hear is that babies don't actually need shoes to learn to walk. In fact, they learn better by gaining the skill barefoot. That allows them to grip the ground with their toes and feel the ground and the relationship between that and their foot.
Once babies start going outside and walking on the sidewalk or the grass, though, it's a good idea to protect their feet from the hot or cold or things that can cut them. In the beginning, though, it's a good idea to start with a shoe that has a flexible sole. It should be lightweight and have some traction on it so that the baby doesn't slip on the wood floors or other surfaces.
There are plenty of good options on the market these days, such as Robeez, Momobaby, Pediped and Stride Rite, according to Parenting. Eventually, when a toddler is comfortable with walking and ready to play on more harmful surfaces like wood chips at a playground, it's a good idea to go with something sturdier to protect the foot. For the first steps, though, all natural is best.
And remember that a baby's feet will grow fast, and in no time, they will be on to the next size and stage.
2 Athletic Angle
With the speed some babies pick up walking, parents may think that they may have a little track star in their future. But the truth is that learning to walk isn't a competition, and it isn't a sign that the baby will be a star athlete or a benchwarmer.
Of course, if there is a physical reason for the baby's delay or trouble walking, it should be addressed as quickly as possible. Parents don't want their baby's bones to develop poorly, even if they have no hopes for the Olympics. But as we have mentioned, many of the issues like minor hip dysplasia, bowlegs or toe-walking are common and will go away over time. As babies' legs and toes get sturdier and straighter, they will get faster. And experts say that things like motivation, practice and perseverance are better indicators of athletic prowess than when a baby starts walking. So take the pressure off and enjoy this stage in life.
1 Late Walker/Late Bloomer
A lot of moms worry when their little ones don't hit their milestones. And walking is one that is so major that it is given a lot of weight by parents. However, the truth is that a late walker is not necessarily a late bloomer.
There are so many factors that go into when a baby walks, and whether it is a physical issue or just a later motivation, it doesn't mean that anything is wrong with the baby's brain. In fact, research has shown no correlation in the timeline of a baby walking and intelligence.
Even though most babies are walking around by 15 months, doctors say not to worry for a few more months. Some babies just need more time or motivation. After 19 months, there may be a need for an evaluation, but parents shouldn't panic. In fact, they may want to panic when the baby does start walking because then they will no longer be able to walk into another room and know that the baby will be in the same spot when they return.
It's the beginning of independence and so much more — and we wish families the best as they transition into the toddler years.
Sources: Parents, WebMD, Baby Center, KidsHealth, Mayo Clinic