Baby’s First Steps: When Should it Happen, and What Can Parents Do?

The weeks before and after a baby’s first birthday are a momentous time, with milestones happening on what seems like a daily basis. Perhaps the most exciting milestone in this period is learning to walk, and if you read the parenting books and magazines, you have probably heard that this is supposed to happen around the first birthday. So when the first birthday passes and the baby does not seem close to walking, many parents are understandably worried. In most cases, however, there is nothing to be concerned about. When should the first steps happen As with many baby milestones, there is a broad range of months in which the first steps can occur, and when your baby takes them does not necessarily correspond to her level of development or future success. All babies develop in different ways, and there are many reasons why your child might be a late walker—most of which are not alarming. For instance, if your baby is a very good crawler, does not have a play space that promotes cruising (i.e., standing against furniture and moving around the room), or has had a few frightening tumbles, then walking might come a little later. Also, if your baby was premature or has had health issues, there is a good chance she will be physically behind her age group. And genetics are a factor as well; late or early walking tends to run in the family. In general, the first steps can occur at anywhere from nine months to 18 months, and first steps that are even earlier or later are not unheard of. The thing to remember is that, again, when walking occurs does not necessarily correspond to other developmental factors. A baby who walks at nine months may simply have an adventurous spirit combined with lots of play time in a space that promotes standing and cruising. How parents can promote first steps One thing that surprises many new parents is that the first steps cannot always be pinpointed. Often there is an evolution to real steps, with incremental phases on the way. But what is certain is that your baby cannot walk until she learns to stand, so parents can help the process along by giving the child the opportunity to stand and even helping at times. Your baby will stand on her own sooner or later—sooner if she has easy access to things to pull herself up on—so you do not necessarily need to help. But if you want to be involved, you can help your child practice standing, either by pulling her into a standing position or by helping her to lean against things. Keep in mind, however, that if she does not seem interested in standing, there is no need to force it. That might just be setting her up for a tumble. Although your help can marginally speed up the learning process, the most important thing is to give the child plenty of playtime in a safe space that allows him to roam and explore. By now you probably already have an area of the home that is the baby’s designated play space. If not, set one up. A living room with soft furniture is great for learning to walk because the baby will have plenty of things to pull himself up on. Whatever space you choose, when you give your child lots of supervised independent playtime, it is only a matter of time before he starts standing and walking. By Lisa Pecos

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