When do babies start walking? If you’re asking yourself that question you’ve probably already put a lot of thought (and work) into getting your kid bipedal. But an answer to the question “when do babies walk?” requires an understanding of babies’ physical development. While most neurotypical babies start walking without support by 15 months, a lot happens before then as babies build the strength and coordination necessary for them to start walking, and every baby won’t progress in the same order or at the same speed. The expected (though not guaranteed) progression of gross motor skill milestones includes pushing up by 2 to 3 months, rolling (front to back or back to front) by 4 to 6 months, sitting with support by 4 months, pulling up by 9 months, and eventually walking by 12 to 15 months. Many babies progress in that order, but others hit these milestones concurrently, out of order, or not at all. Many babies skip milestones like crawling altogether, going straight from wiggling to standing to walking. The average age babies start to walk is an estimate, not an ultimatum.
“The important point to keep in mind with developmental milestones is that there are ranges for each and every one. So just because your child doesn’t reach a certain one at the age we typically expect them, it isn’t immediately a cause for concern,” explains Tiffany Fischmann, MD, a pediatrician, and neonatologist. “We always look at the whole child and if they are meeting all of their other milestones; but if they haven’t reached one particular one yet, we tend to observe and give it a little time.”
How to Help a Baby Learn to Walk
- Babies start walking one step at a time – before babies can walk, they need to develop the gross motor skills that will allow them to do so – things like strength, balance, and bodily awareness.
- The baby walking 15-month old milestone is a guideline – a lot of kids; gross motor skills development correspond to developmental milestones, but a lot do not. Kids develop on their own timeline.
- Baby walkers are dangerous – they are known to cause injury and accidents. Supervised general exploration is a much more effective – and safer – option.
- Barefoot is best for baby walking – being able to feel and grip the ground with their toes is a crucial part of development; shoes can interfere with that. Where shoes are necessary, thin-soled leather booties are a good compromise.
Parents may want to help their child develop these gross motor skills — they certainly take pride in their child learning to walk, even as it spells the end of a certain kind of easy, snuggle-based parenting — but according to Fischmann, the biggest thing parents can do to help their baby walk is supervise (and baby proof) for the sake of safety.
“There isn’t much you have to do as a parent to get your child to walk, but I think the best way to see them progress is to allow them to explore their environment,” says Fischmann. “Make sure your home is properly childproofed and relatively clean and let your baby play on the floor and explore moving. Let them try to do things, let them fall, and let them explore outdoors as well. Obviously, always with close supervision.”
Parents can create situations where babies are more likely to discover their own abilities, but the work is up to the kid. Certain products, such as baby walkers, that claim to help children walk are, not only completely useless but also, downright dangerous.
“Bottom line: [baby walkers] do not aid in the development of walking,” cautions Fischmann. “They put babies at risk for serious injuries most from head injuries or falls downstairs. They allow babies who normally wouldn’t be able to get around to get into things they shouldn’t be getting into. Stationary play centers in moderation are a far better and safer alternative.”
Parents who want to help their babies start walking and become better walkers do have some options, though: Put away the cute baby shoes.
“Toddlers really need to feel the ground under their feet as they learn to walk and they do this best without shoes. They should also get used to different textures under their feet to help them develop their proprioception,” explains Fischmann. “Of course, there are times when toddlers will need to wear shoes, so you should choose something with a flexible sole and space for their feet to grow.”
While it’s hard for new parents to avoid drawing comparisons between their baby and their friends’ babies, many conclusions they draw from those comparisons will be premature. Other times, missing milestones like a baby walking should be concerning, particularly after multiple delays, regressions, or failure to progress. Ultimately, parents should take baby walking milestones with a grain of salt and voice any concerns to their pediatricians.