Your baby starts checking off a million milestones from the day she is born—from smiling her first little grin to babbling to crawling. But her first steps may be the moment you’re most excited about. So when can you expect to hear the pitter patter of little feet? Most babies take their first steps around 12 months, but “every child is different and some may begin walking a little before the exact 12-month mark or a little bit later,” says New York-based pediatrician Dr. Cherilyn Cecchini.
Will your baby start walking soon?
Before children can take their first steps, they need to move through a series of developmental milestones to prepare, because, as the saying goes, you need to learn how to crawl before you can walk. Typically, babies start crawling between seven and ten months. To encourage this, Dr. Cecchini says parents can place toys just out of reach during “tummy time” (when babies are practicing balancing on their tummies). “Tummy time helps strengthen the core abdominal muscles and overall balance, so it is a great way to help prepare babies to crawl and walk.”
Around nine months, babies will begin to pull themselves up, using furniture to help them stand (so make sure to secure any wobbly objects that they might try to grab). “This is one sign that he or she is getting ready to walk soon,” Dr. Cecchini explains. “Once your baby feels comfortable standing, he or she may begin to take small steps while holding your hand or holding onto objects. This is referred to as ‘cruising.’” At this point, your baby will begin to move from one piece of furniture to the next, and may be able to let go and stand without support. (This is also when you will need to baby-proof your home and pad any sharp edges and corners.)
This is also when your baby will probably be squatting, and perhaps grabbing a toy off the floor from a standing position. At this point, she might even take a few steps while holding your hand, but won’t be ready to go off on her own just yet.
Within a few weeks after that, however, she’ll most likely take her first shaky step. It may only be a single step at first, but soon it will be several steps at a time, likely into your waiting arms. Most babies advance from these first steps to walking more confidently within days, eventually learning how to stop and change directions. In the beginning, your baby will walk with her legs far apart and feet pointed outward to help maintain stability.
As we mentioned, first steps usually happen around the first birthday, with confident walking by 14 or 15 months. But some babies don’t start walking until they're 16 or 17 months, or even older.
Keep in mind that some children also skip a step completely. “Many parents expect their baby to sit, then crawl, then walk, but this sometimes isn’t the case,” explains Dr. Brittany Odom, an Orlando-based pediatrician. “Some babies skip over the crawling phase and instead scoot on their bottoms or slide on their bellies, then go straight to cruising and walking.”
How to help your baby learn to walk
While you can’t “teach” your child to walk, you can encourage certain behaviors and offer support. For example, as babies learn to pull up to stand, “they sometimes don’t quite know how to let themselves down and may get fussy as they become ‘stuck’ in their newfound standing position,” Dr. Odom says. If your baby cries for help, physically show them how to bend their knees so they can lower themselves down.
Also, simply kneeling in front of them with your arms outstretched, encouraging them to walk toward you, or holding their hands and guiding them toward you might be all the help they need to take their first steps.
And although you may be tempted to give your little one a leg up by buying a baby walker, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend using them since they can actually discourage your child from learning to walk and can be downright dangerous. “In fact, walkers may slow down walking development and may lead to serious injuries,” Dr. Cecchini says. “Babies who use walkers might trip and fall over, fall down stairs or get into dangerous places that would otherwise be out of reach.”
Instead, try a stationary walker or activity center, which don’t have wheels, only seats that rotate and bounce. But to encourage movement, let your baby crawl, stand up and explore on their own as much as possible. That also means carrying them less so they are more motivated to get moving. Once they are standing up and cruising, you might want to introduce a push toy that’s sturdy enough for them to pull up on.
Also, we know there’s nothing cuter than a pair of itty-bitty baby shoes, but it’s actually best to let your baby go barefoot. This helps them develop balance and coordination and offers more stability thanks to toes that grip. According to the AAP, “babies learn to walk by gripping the ground with their toes and using their heels for stability. This helps develop the muscles needed for walking and is easier to do without socks or shoes.”
Of course if your baby starts walking around outside or is on uneven, hot or cold surfaces, put on shoes, but choose a pair that’s breathable with flexible, lightweight soles, and make sure they have room to move and grow.
Why some babies start walking later
“Every baby is different, navigating and learning to move around their world at their own pace,” Dr. Odom says. “Each milestone (sitting, cruising, walking) requires a little more strength and developmental skills. If your baby hasn’t acquired enough strength or the necessary skills, they may not meet that milestone.”
And if your baby is pulling up and cruising at 15 months but hasn’t taken her first steps yet, don’t panic, she might just be a late starter. But check with your pediatrician about any concerns you may have in case further testing is needed. “It’s important to look at how your baby is doing overall, across all developmental domains. If your child isn’t walking by 18 months, talk to your doctor about whether your baby needs a comprehensive developmental assessment.”