First your baby is pulling up, then "cruising" the living-room furniture. Is your child on the verge of taking those first momentous steps?

Your baby is now teetering on the edge of independence. This month or next, he may begin "cruising"-stepping sideways while holding on to furniture-the last stage before he takes his first solo steps. His new self-sufficiency and mobility will lead him to explore; for that reason, this is a good time to introduce the concept of limits. Occasionally saying no will teach your baby that freedom has certain boundaries. It will also help protect him from dangerous situations and save your sanity.

Within a few weeks of learning to pull themselves to a standing position, most babies progress to walking while holding on to furniture. Called cruising, this begins with the baby holding on to a piece of furniture with both hands and inching along while she slides on her feet. Gradually, she'll get up the courage to put all her weight on her feet and use her hands only for balance. From there, she'll progress to moving hand-over-hand and picking up her feet. The final step before unassisted walking comes when she learns to bridge gaps between pieces of furniture by holding on to one item while reaching for the next.

Once your baby begins cruising, make sure he has access only to stable pieces of furniture. To help him practice, arrange sturdy items so that he can get himself all around the room. Protect him from falling on slippery floors by only letting him walk barefoot (which also helps to build arches and strengthen ankles) or, if it's cold, in booties or socks that have nonskid soles.

The final task of walking unsupported is never an easy one to achieve. Your baby's legs and feet are still disproportionately small compared with her trunk and head, yet she must carry all that weight. Then she must figure out how to coordinate the separate motions of the hip, knee, and ankle without collapsing in the process. It's certainly no wonder that babies wobble awkwardly with their legs apart and must stretch out their arms for balance!

Of course, you can't coach your baby to walk sooner than he's going to, but you can do a few things to promote large motor development:

Don't keep your baby confined to a playpen or play yard for longer than 20 minutes at a time.

Once your baby can crawl, encourage him to strengthen his muscles by climbing onto your lap or onto soft, upholstered furniture.

Resist the urge to carry your child everywhere-let her try to make her way on her own instead of relying on you.

Make your home as safe as possible so you don't have to keep telling your baby no.

Try to foster the idea that movement is a fun, healthy part of your baby's life by smiling and laughing as you move about.

Don't push your baby or worry if he doesn't proceed quickly to solo walking. In any stage of motor development, weeks or months may pass when progress seems to halt. Your little one may be concentrating on another aspect of development (this period also brings a spurt of learning about objects and language) or simply getting up his courage. Once he has learned to pull himself up, he will learn to walk-at his own pace.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.