My Baby’s Developmental Milestone: Walking

When it comes to milestones, your baby's first steps can't be beaten. One day he's standing against the couch — maybe sliding along it — and the next he's tottering hesitantly into your waiting arms. Then he's off and running, leaving babyhood behind. Your child's first baby steps are, after all, his first major move toward independence.

When it develops

During his first year, your baby is busy developing coordination and muscle strength throughout his body. He'll learn to sit, roll over, and crawl before moving on to pulling up and standing at about eight months. From then on it's a matter of gaining confidence and balance. Most babies take their first steps sometime between nine and 12 months and are walking well by the time they're 14 or 15 months old. Don't worry if your child takes a little longer, though. Many perfectly normal children don't walk until they're 16 or 17 months old.

How it develops

Your newborn's legs aren't nearly strong enough to support him yet, but if you hold him upright under his arms, he'll dangle his legs down and push against a hard surface with his feet, almost as if he's walking. This is a reflexive action, and he'll only do it for a couple of months.

By the time your baby's about five months old, he'll bounce up and down if you let him balance his feet on your thighs. Bouncing will be a favorite activity over the next couple of months, in fact, as your baby's leg muscles continue to develop while he masters rolling over, sitting, and crawling.

At about eight months your baby will probably start trying to pull himself up to a stand while holding onto furniture (so make sure everything in his path is sturdy enough to support him). If you help him along by propping him up next to the sofa, he'll hang on for dear life. After a couple of weeks mastering this standing position, he'll start to cruise, moving from one piece of furniture to the next for support. He may even be able to let go and stand without support. Once he can do that, he may be able to take steps when held in a walking position or even scoop up a toy from a standing position.

At nine or 10 months your baby will begin to figure out how to bend his knees and how to sit after standing (which is harder than you might think!).

By 11 months your baby will probably have mastered standing solo, stooping, and squatting. He may even walk while gripping your hand, though he probably won't take his first steps alone for at least a few more weeks. Most children make those early strides on tiptoe with their feet turned outward.

At 13 months, three-fourths of toddlers are walking on their own — albeit unsteadily. If yours still hasn't stopped cruising, it just means walking on his own is going to take a little longer.

What's next

After those first magical steps toward independence, your child will begin to master the finer points of mobility:

  • At 14 months, your toddler should be able to stand alone. He can probably squat down and then stand back up again, and he might even work on walking backwards.
  • By 15 months your child may be pretty good at walking. He may enjoy push-and-pull toys while he toddles.
  • At about 16 months, your child will begin to take an interest in going up and down stairs — though he probably won't navigate them solo for a few more months.
  • It's likely your child will be a proficient walker by 18 months. He might like to climb all over the furniture, and he can probably motor upstairs — though he'll still need help getting back down for a few more months. He may try to kick a ball, though he won't always be successful, and he probably likes to dance to music.
  • At 25 or 26 months, your child's steps will be more even, and he'll have the hang of the smooth heel-to-toe motion adults use. He's also getting better at jumping.
  • By the time your child's third birthday rolls around, many of his basic movements will have become second nature. He'll no longer need to focus energy on walking, standing, running, or jumping, though some actions, such as standing on tiptoes or on one foot, might still require concentration and effort.

Your role

As your baby learns to pull himself up to a standing position, he may need some help figuring out how to get back down again. If he gets stuck and cries for you, don't just pick him up and plop him down. Show him how to bend his knees so he can sit down without toppling over, and let him give it a try himself.

You can encourage your baby to walk by standing or kneeling in front of him and holding out your hands. Or you might hold both his hands and walk him toward you. He'll probably also enjoy a toddle truck or push toy that he can hold on to as he walks. Look for toddling toys that are stable and have a wide base of support.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly discourages using baby-walkers. Because they make it so easy for your child to get around, walkers can prevent his upper leg muscles from developing correctly. And because they make it possible for your child to reach hot items or poisons that he wouldn't normally be able to get to, they aren't safe. You can also hold off on introducing shoes until your baby is walking around outside or on rough or cold surfaces regularly. Going barefoot helps improve balance and coordination.

As always, make sure your baby has a soft, safe environment in which to hone his new skills. Follow standard childproofing guidelines, and never leave your baby unattended.

When to be concerned

Don't fret if your child is simply taking his time, but if your child seems to be lagging behind significantly, bring it up with his doctor. Keep in mind that babies have different timetables, and premature babies may reach this and other milestones later than their peers.