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Learning to Walk

Alexandra Grablewski

A baby's first few years are marked by many milestones. But the one you'll probably always remember is when he took his first wobbly steps. Walking is a major developmental leap for babies, and parents are often anxious about when it'll happen. Every baby learns to walk at his own pace, however, so just because your friend's child is already toddling doesn't mean yours should be, too! Read on to find out what signals indicate your child is ready to walk, how you can help, and more.

When will my baby walk?

Most babies take their first steps around their first birthday, but the age range varies from 9 to 18 months. Don't worry if your baby takes a few detours along the way. Some kids never crawl—they go straight from standing to walking—and that's perfectly normal. What's important at this stage is that your child is using arms and legs together to become mobile. If your child is doing any of the following, walking is not far behind:

  • Rolling around
  • Crab walking
  • Scooting
  • Climbing stairs using his hands

Look at your child's progress. Is he doing more this month than last month? Is he getting a little bit more of his body off the ground? If so, you've got nothing to worry about. If by the end of his first year he doesn't make any effort to get around somehow, talk to your doctor.

How to encourage walking

It takes most babies about 1,000 hours of practice from the time they pull themselves upright to the time they can walk alone. To help prepare your child for taking those first few steps:

From birth:

The single most important requirement for walking: strong back muscles, which babies develop by lifting their heads while lying on their tummies. So make sure yours gets plenty of tummy time while awake. Place interesting toys and objects just out of reach for motivation.

Once she can sit:

Help her practice her balance and mobility by rolling a ball back and forth with her. Or hold a toy in front of her and move it from side to side, which will encourage her to lean this way and that. As she lunges forward or crawls, she'll develop more strength in her neck, back, legs and arms, as well as more control of her hips—enabling her to pull herself up to a standing position—and safely plop down again.

Once she can stand:

Let her walk in front of you while you hold her hands—and periodically let go of one hand so she can experiment with balance. Or stand a few feet away from her and cheer her on when she's standing on her own. Offer lots of encouragement and praise.

Once she can cruise:

After she has mastered standing, she may start to leave her handprints all over the house as she cruises from the wall to a chair to the coffee table. Help her by arranging sturdy furniture so she can make her way across the room. She may not yet be able to sit from a standing position, which she'll want to learn to do before walking on her own. Be close by so you can help ease her butt down with your hand; then she'll be able to sit without hurting her bottom.

Safety precautions

Your newly mobile baby can get around faster than you think! Step up your childproofing:

  • Remove low tables with sharp corners that are hard to cover well enough to prevent injury. (Lacerations above or at the eyebrows are so common among kids learning to walk that in hospital emergency rooms they're called coffee-table lacerations!)
  • Put away furniture that topples easily.
  • Scour your home for trailing cords or other items your child might trip on. Put away throw rugs, retack loose carpet and have siblings pick up their toys.
  • Install safety gates at the top and the bottom of the stairs, and supervise your baby whenever he's on the stairs.
  • Lock up all potentially harmful household substances.

Should I buy a walker?

The short answer: No! Canada has banned the sale of walkers, and the American Academy of Pediatrics supports a similar ban in the United States. Each year, thousands of children end up in the hospital due to injuries from using walkers, such as toppling down the stairs or reaching a hot stove.

Bouncers and elliptical seats aren't good ideas, either. While they hold kids in an upright position, they don't help them learn to walk any faster. In fact, these devices may even delay walking if they're used too often. A child's body is not aligned correctly when he sits in one of them. Your baby's much better off on the floor or in a playpen.

Baby's first shoes

When indoors, it's best to let your child walk around barefoot. Her feet can grab slippery surfaces, like wood and tile floors, better. Outdoors, she'll need a pair of shoes. For a perfect fit:

  • Don't shop for shoes first thing in the morning, since feet grow about 5 percent by the end of the day.
  • Your child should be standing when you check for fit. You should be able to press the full width of your thumb between the tip of the shoe and the end of her toe, and there should be just enough room at the heel to squeeze your pinkie in.
  • Let her toddle around the store in the shoes for five minutes, then take them off and look at her feet. If there are any irritated spots, nix those shoes—she won't be able to break them in.
  • Check the fit monthly, since feet grow rapidly at this stage. And be ready to make a trip to the shoe store every two to three months.

As excited as you are about your baby taking his first steps, try to be patient. Every child has his own time frame for reaching this milestone. The best help you can offer: Be encouraging, set up safety measures and wait. Soon enough, the pitter-patter of little feet will be all over your house!

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