Step by Step
Probably no milestone is as chock-full of thrills, chills, and excitement as your baby's first steps. Between 13 and 15 months, "all of your child's energy will be focused on taking those first unsupported steps," says DeAnn Davies, a child development specialist at Healthy Steps, a pediatric care program, in Phoenix. "You might notice that your child isn't learning new words at the same rate, for instance, because she's so busy trying to master walking."
Just imagine balancing on a tightrope without a net, with little ability to stop, start, or change direction. Carrying on a conversation would be the last thing on your mind! In fact, walking requires such enormous complexity of balance and coordination, "your toddler really can't do anything else and may not even be able to listen if you're talking to him," says Karen Carter, MD, a developmental pediatrician at the Medical College of Georgia Children's Medical Center, in Augusta. Every child goes through the same sequence of stages in learning to walk. First, your child pulls to stand on whatever looks handy -- the coffee table, crib rail, or couch will do nicely as her first balance beam. Now she's on cruise control. Her fingers will do the walking first, as she slides both hands along whatever's supporting her, using mostly the weight of her arms to support her body. Soon, your child will rise to the rank of expert cruiser, as she discovers that she can stand back from her support with arms outstretched. This move places more of her weight on her legs. Instead of sliding both hands together, she'll be confident enough to cross hand over hand; feet eventually follow, as beginning walkers move from sliding their feet to actually picking them up off the ground and balancing on them.
When she can rely on just one hand and one foot to support her, she'll be ready to cross small gaps between safe handholds. She won't yet release one support unless she can reach another, but she'll crank up her cruising speed and delight in moving from couch to table to Dad's pant leg, improving coordination as she learns how to judge distances and recognize objects from this new perspective.
Unsupported Walking & Independence
When will she walk unsupported? Depending on temperament, body build, gender, and family environment, babies vary from taking just a few days to several weeks as they transform into true bipeds. For instance, more cautious children may rely on this supported cruising for weeks or even months; occasionally a sudden fall or unexpected change in daily routine may even cause them to revert to crawling again as they reconsider their moves. (Don't worry: the sequence from standing to cruising to walking will take less time on her second go-round.)"Overall, we'd want to refer a baby for evaluation if he isn't walking by 16 months, to assess his motor skills," says Davies.
No matter when your baby takes those first steps toward independence, it will probably be because she's forgotten that she's doing something risky. "She'll step away from whatever she's holding on to because she's so motivated by a toy she wants that she'll forget she might fall," says Davies. Then she'll likely be so astonished by her own victory that she'll want to try it again.
- Month 13: Pulls to a stand and cruises furniture; can take objects in and out of containers; throws objects; helps get himself dressed; takes an interest in and makes eye contact with other babies.
- Month 14: Attempts to use utensils and feed himself; plays alone for short periods of time.
- Month 15: Follows simple commands; imitates adults during play; may walk unaided; so much to say.