Do you have a sore back from bending over to hold your little one’s hand as he learns to walk day after day after day? When will he take off on his own? It seems simple enough, one foot in front of the other . . . but it’s not as easy as it looks.
Let’s break it down. Like most early development skills, learning to walk actually starts at birth! The first time you hold your body upright, he begins to interpret his world from that vertical position. The balance centers housed in his inner ears begin to establish his sense of balance. The first time you put her in tummy time and stretches out those legs and stretches those tiny hip flexors, she is preparing her legs and hips for the extension needed for early walking. The first time she pushes her upper body up in tummy time and uses those neck muscles to hold her head up, she is strengthening her upper body to pull to stand and take that first step. It is a process, a very sequential process that doesn’t happen overnight.
The Development of Baby Walking
All development is sequential. Every milestone builds on the previous milestone. All babies are different and progress through each milestone at different rates. Your friend’s baby may have taken that first step at nine months, and your niece may take her first step at fifteen months. Both are perfectly within the range for typical development but can definitely cause sleepless nights for a vigilant mommy or daddy.
Because baby development occurs from head to toe and the trunk of their body outward, babies need to establish trunk strength and stability before they will have the coordination to balance on their own two feet, shift weight from one foot to the other and advance that foot forward. Babies develop trunk support and strength by being in tummy time and crawling. Think planking for babies. We know how great planking is to develop our core strength, and that is what tummy time and crawling do for babies.
As your baby is crawling on all fours, she is weight-bearing through her hands and knees, building strength and stability in her knees, hips, and shoulder joints as well as strength through her abs and back muscles. This is critical for walking later on. For a variety of reasons, some babies do more tummy time and crawling time than other babies. Does that mean the babies who get the most tummy time and crawling time walk first? Of course not. It is just one piece of the puzzle.
Personality and Temperament Can Play a Role
Think about your baby’s temperament. Is he brave, does he take chances, is he comfortable being away from you? These components all play into the child’s readiness to step away from you and begin walking on his own. Continue to reassure, make sure he knows that you are always there for him to come back to, and offer lots of encouragement to boost his self-esteem. It takes guts to take that first step.
Mastering One Baby Milestone at a Time
Another important factor to consider is what other milestones your baby is working on. Babies tend to focus on one thing at a time until they feel they have mastered it, then they move on. Is she getting more vocal, showing more verbal and non-verbal communication? Sometimes, when babies focus on language development, the physical milestones go by the wayside temporarily while she focuses on her other newfound skills. The basic rules of milestone development are:
- Do changes continue to occur? Even mini-milestones such as the ability to balance for four seconds instead of two seconds.
- Are there no plateaus in developmental milestones? Babies should not go longer than a month or two without showing any new skills.
- Is there no regression in developmental milestones? Babies should not completely lose skills once they are mastered.
If you are confident that these “rules” are not an issue and your pediatrician has checked your baby’s hips, knees, and feet and the overall tone of her muscles and everything is healthy, just give her the time she needs. In the blink of an eye, she will be running, and you will be longing for the days you were able to keep up with her!