Don’t let the one-tooth grin, chubby arms and baby talk fool you. Inside the cutest package ever burns a fierce determination to do the impossible: walk.
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But when should your baby start walking, and what are the signs it’s going to happen soon? Pediatrician Michele Marshall, MD, has your baby-walking bible.
While the average age for babies to start walking is about 12 months, some take their first steps even earlier or much later. “Babies can start walking as early as 9 months,” Dr. Marshall says. “It’s also normal for babies to take more time and start walking at 17 or 18 months.”
Once they get going, they may not master this new skill right away. “Expect that wide-based gait for a while,” Dr. Marshall says. “It takes a bit of time to get their balance. Your child might not be up and running until around 15 to 18 months old.”
How do you know your baby is getting close to life on the go? At around 9 to 12 months, watch for these signs your baby will walk soon:
While some babies crawl, too, it’s not necessarily a prerequisite to walking. “Some babies only commando crawl (pulling themselves along on their stomach). Others crawl on their hands and knees or skip crawling altogether,” Dr. Marshall notes. “What’s most important is the ability to independently pull themselves up to a complete stand. That’s the big milestone that occurs just before babies start independently walking.”
If your little one just can’t seem to get over the hump, Dr. Marshall recommends a few ways to encourage your baby to walk:
She also cautions against leaving your child unattended as they practice their new skill. “If you need to step away for a minute, put your baby in a play area that they can’t escape from or in their crib or portable playard. Babies always find something to get into, so the best thing to do is get down on all fours and look around to see any dangers you need to block off.”
While tiny shoes can melt even the hardest of hearts, they’re not necessary for a child to learn to walk properly.
“We need shoes when we’re protecting our feet or going outside,” Dr. Marshall says, “but within the home, bare feet or socks with rubber grips on the bottom are just fine.”
In fact, being barefoot may help your child feel the floor better, which could actually help them move along.
Keep in mind that what’s healthy and normal for one child may not be for another. Every child grows and develops at their own pace.
Talk to your pediatrician, though, if your child achieves all the milestones leading up to walking but isn’t walking independently by 18 months old. Those milestones include:
“If they’re achieving all of those, be patient because they may just need more time,” Dr. Marshall says. “But if you have any concerns about when your baby should be walking or meeting other physical milestones, we’re here to help.”