Even if you're not obsessing about it, chances are you've been asked, "So is he walking yet?" When will the momentous event occur? Your baby will likely take his first steps between 9 and 15 months.
Here's a quick timeline of milestones that lead to walking.
Sitting Up: At around 6 months, baby starts solving the puzzle of how to use the muscles in his trunk to stay upright.
Pulling to a Stand: The timing of this varies; many are trying by 10 months. "Seventy percent of our body mass is from the hips on up, so the legs need a lot of strength to lift the torso," notes Jody L. Jensen, PhD, professor of kinesiology at the University of Texas.
Cruising: Again, age varies, but when he does it, he'll make his way around the room using whatever furniture is available.
The final piece of the walking puzzle is learning how to lift off with one foot while balancing on the other. She'll lurch along like Frankenstein as she gets used to her land legs -- the wide stance and outstretched arms are characteristics of all new walkers. In order to stand, she has to contract a lot of muscles. But to walk, she eventually needs to relax her hips and knees a bit. "The challenge is figuring out how to get just the right amount of muscle tension in the legs," Jensen says. But 1-year-olds are quick studies -- it won't take long until she loosens up and is tearing around the house.
What if all the other babies in the playgroup are on two feet, and yours is content with the view from the floor? If your child is 16 months and hasn't walked, talk to your doctor. (There are interventions available.) Otherwise, try not to stress. Push toys, stationary activity centers, and jumpers will not help your child walk any sooner. On the other hand, they don't cause any harm, so if your baby likes these toys, let him play. Avoid walkers, which allow kids to get into trouble fast.
Many parents wonder if early walking means there's a sports scholarship in their child's future. Whether your child is an early or late walker says less about his future athleticism and more about whether he's a risk taker or a wait-and-see type. "Some kids have an 'I can do anything!' mentality and want to get up and get going as soon as they discover it's an option," says Laura Jana, MD, author of Heading Home with Your Newborn. "They don't worry about falls." Others don't want to start walking until they are sure they can do so fairly well. These children may turn out to be more cautious and contemplative.
Size: Bigger babies often walk later because they need more strength to get upright than a smaller baby does.
Recurrent Ear Infections: "If a child is 16 months or older and isn't walking, we ask about illnesses. An ear infection can throw off baby's balance and delay walking," Jensen says.
Birth Order: A baby with an older sib may be motivated to walk earlier because he wants to keep up -- and imitate what the big kid is doing.
It's not uncommon for babies to alternate between crawling and walking. If your baby sees something across the room that requires her immediate attention, she may get down on all fours. It's like she's thinking, I have to get there stat. Walking is going to take way too long.
Once they get going, the next challenge is figuring out how to stop. "We say beginning walkers 'fall' into their steps," says Jensen. Each step has more force than an adult's because newbies don't bend their knees or use a heel-toe motion, both of which absorb some of the impact. They haven't figured out how to break their forward momentum by stopping with one foot and bringing the trailing foot to meet it. Their way of stopping? Falling. "Usually it goes step, step, fall," Jensen says.
Babies learn to walk more easily if they don't wear shoes, because bare feet allow direct contact with the floor. When you go on outings, of course, baby needs some shoes. Look for a pair with flexible soles -- you should be able to fold the shoe in half. Once she's walking outside, get a pair with skids.
"Getting around on his own allows your child to interact and explore the world in a whole new way," Dr. Jana says. "It opens all sorts of new possibilities." She adds that having a mobile, walking child really changes everything for parents, too, in terms of keeping kids safe and entertained. "The adjustment to having a toddler is a new milestone of parenthood!"
Originally published in American Baby magazine.