Baby’s First Steps

Learning to walk is a huge milestone! Check out the complete guide for what you should you expect and how can you prepare for the baby’s first steps!

Our youngest daughter, Poppy, started walking recently and I was quickly reminded of the mixed bag of emotions that comes along with this milestone! 

Watching your little one grow and learn is thrilling. My favorite part is seeing how proud of themselves they are to become mobile! 

However, until they get lots and lots of practice and those steps become more confident, the frequent stumbling, falling and access to new things around the house creates a whole new list of things to worry about. 

So, what should you expect and how can you prepare for baby’s first steps? I brought some of my questions and things I wish I had known to two pediatric experts: Dr. Carolyn Zuiker, PT, DPT, Owner/Physical Therapist at Boost Babies in Austin, TX and Emily Blewett, proud mom, NICU Nurse, Certified CPR Instructor, Certified Moms on Call Baby & Toddler Sleep Consultant + Certified Lactation Counselor. 

Dr. Carolyn Zuiker, PT, DPT, Owner/Physical Therapist at Boost Babies in Austin, TX
Emily Blewett, proud mom, NICU Nurse, Certified CPR Instructor, Certified Moms on Call Baby & Toddler Sleep Consultant + Certified Lactation Counselor 

When do babies typically start walking?

Dr. Carolyn Zuiker: In general, 50% of babies take their first steps between 11-13 months, and 90% of babies are taking those first steps by 15 months.  We know from scientific evidence that practice is what is most important to walking development.  If an 11 month old baby is not pulling to stand, unable to let go and stand independently, or not able to take steps at the furniture or walk while holding hands, then that baby is not getting the practice needed to take independent steps by his first birthday.

At what age should I be concerned if they aren’t walking yet?

Dr. Carolyn Zuiker: Pediatricians use 15-18 months as a motor milestone marker for walking.  As a pediatric PT, I would like to state that the earlier we can identify and treat delays in movement, the more optimal our treatment results.  In other words, we know that if your baby is having a hard time pulling to stand by 12 months, is not bearing weight or pushing through her legs, or does not initiate steps with help, it is important to reach out to your local healthcare provider and not wait for the 18 month pediatrician visit.  Most states have direct access to therapy where you can reach out to a healthcare professional like a pediatric PT for a specific developmental evaluation.  I also want to emphasize that movement development is on a continuum.  If your baby is not moving in and out of sitting by 9 months or your “parent gut” is sounding off earlier than typical walking skills emerge, reach out to your local healthcare professional.  As I mentioned earlier, the sooner we address these delays in independent movement, the better the treatment results.

It seems like my baby is always falling down when walking! How much falling is too much falling?

Dr. Carolyn Zuiker: What goes up, must come down.  Falling is an important and significant part of walking development. After a fall, our brain gets used to or “habituates” to the movement.  Therefore, the more that balance is challenged and the child is forced into falling, the greater the improvement in stability.  In addition, falling allows the child to develop protective reactions by using his arms to stop the downward momentum in order to prevent potential injury to the body.  Practice your child’s new walking skills on softer surfaces like carpet or a dense foam mat to create a safe space for falling skill development.

New walkers fall all of the time as they figure out balance.  After about 3 months of walking practice, we expect falls to decrease in familiar areas, like your house.  With that said, toddlers fall for many reasons, including external factors like attention diversion or walking in unfamiliar spaces.  If your child has been walking for 6 months and is unable to keep up with her peers like on the playground or in the classroom, reach out to your local healthcare professional.Also, if you child is limping or complaining of pain, seek medical attention.

Should my baby wear shoes to walk around the house?

Dr. Carolyn Zuiker: There is a ton of research out there supporting the importance of barefoot walking. The foot plays a major role in balance, proprioception (where the body is in space) and postural support.  Based on the early walking research, babies who walk barefoot, walk faster with a smaller step width and experience less falls when compared to babies walking with shoes.  In addition, during barefoot walking, the foot is not restricted in movement and feedback from environment is maximized.  Therefore, our babies need lots of barefoot practice time for optimal walking development unless otherwise directed by a healthcare provider.

What developmental activities are best to help with walking?

Dr. Carolyn Zuiker: Babies need to take close to 10,000 steps prior to walking independently, so, start practicing!  Here are just a few examples of ways to practice standing/walking skills:

  • Kicking.  In the early months, touch those feet, have them touch different textures with their feet on a play mat. When holding baby on your chest or shoulder, put your hand under his feet so he can practice pushing/extending his legs
  • Cruising. Stand the child facing the furniture, move the toys out of her reach, make her reach and shift her weight to start stepping
  • Balance. Stand the child with her back to the furniture, have her play, reach and pick up toys and shift her weight
  • Walking. Hold both hands, then hold just one hand and explore; Change your hand position to hold the child’s hands down towards the shoulders or hips
  • More Walking. Use a push-toy (AVOID walkers with sling seats), get them excited and interested in a push toy and let them explore! (Some kids prefer to use chairs, stools, our boxes)

Remember, if you have any concerns about how your baby is moving or developing, please reach out to your local healthcare provider or pediatric PT.

How do I childproof for my new walker?

Emily Blewett: Childproofing and being knowledgeable about possible hazards can help minimize the risk for your child.

Here is a list of a few things we can do to keep our children safe:

  • Keep all medicines in a locked cabinet and out of child’s reach. This means no bottles of vitamins or any type of medicine on the counter, even with “childproof” caps. Last year the Poison Control Centers received more than 52,000 calls about children consuming worrisome amount of Melatonin. Some of the calls were about the gummies of Melatonin. Gummies of any type of medicine or vitamin look like candy to children and must be locked away.
  • Put toilet locks on all toilets. Children can drown in a few inches of water.
  • Always empty water out of bathtub, kiddie pools, and outdoor activity tables. Drowning doesn’t just happen around the pool or lake, it can happen around any source of water. Children ages 1-4 have the highest drowning rate.
  • Always turn pot and pan handles to the back of the stove and cook on back burners when possible.
  • Make sure all knives and cutlery are out of reach. Sometimes latches on a drawer are not quite enough.
  • Be aware of windows. Window falls are a common reason we see children in the ER. A fall from only 4 feet can cause serious injury. There should always be safety locks on all windows so they can only be opened a few inches. A screen will not protect a child.

For a more detailed list, check out the Moms on Call 0-6 Month and 6-15 Month books.

Below are additional resources about child proofing and safety:

SEASON 2 EPISODE 13 | ALL ABOUT CHILDPROOFING – Moms on Call

Summer Safety Tips for Babies and Toddlers – Moms on Call

Be Prepared with First Aid Basics – Moms on Call

Always know how to perform CPR. Immediate and high quality CPR saves lives. As parents, we need to know what to do until help arrives. At Moms on Call, we offer an Infant + Child CPR, Choking and First Aid Online Course. These are essential life-saving skills all caregivers need to know to be able to respond quickly and confidently in an emergency situation.

A huge thank you to Carolyn and Emily for sharing their expertise on baby’s first steps. Be sure to follow them on Instagram, @boostbabies and @infantbasicsandtoddlertraining, for more info and tips. A little knowledge goes a long way and can help to make this milestone a little less stressful so you can fully enjoy your new walker! 

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