4 Stages of Walking Development

As your child grows, they will go through different stages of walking development. If your infant is not yet crawling, cruising, or walking, there’s no need to worry.

What do you mean that Fletcher is not yet crawling?

I was waiting to put my son on the swings at Mommy & Me when another mother overheard me bemoaning his inability to move independently. “He’s 8 and a half months old, and he’s still not crawling?” she asked in disbelief. I was left dumbfounded. I was the horrible mother whose child would not crawl, never would crawl, and hence would never be admitted to a decent college. At least, that is how it played out in my head as a new mother.

At Fletcher’s 9-month well-baby appointment, my pediatrician stated, unconcernedly, “He’s probably just pleased where he is.”

My doctor was urging me to relax in a soothing manner. But how can you determine whether you exaggerate or your fears are valid? To assist you in making a decision, the following is a guide to infants’ four developmental stages, from kicking with ease to walking quickly.

Stage 1: Before They Can Walk or Crawl

The first few weeks of a baby’s existence are spent “unfolding” from their posture for nine months. Your infant should be actively lifting their hips, squirming, and kicking their legs during the first two months, and certainly by month four. Charles Shubin, M.D., assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, says, “The baby is starting to try out those legs to see what they can do.”

If your baby’s legs are slightly bowed, panic is unnecessary. Dr. Shubin notes that eventually, the majority of infants’ legs straighten up on their own. And do not be frightened to prop your infant’s feet up. According to him, the strains of standing aid in straightening bones.

At four and six months, infants discover their pudgy feet and begin to put them in their mouths. In addition to their hands, kids may also use their feet to pick up items and explore the floor.

Things to look out for:

You may observe that your baby’s feet are inwardly curved. In most cases, this is a normal consequence of fetal constriction. Kristin Hannibal, M.D., says there is no cause for concern if the bones are pliable enough for your pediatrician to move the feet into a straight position gently. Yet, if they are inflexible, a pediatric orthopedist may be consulted.

Call your pediatrician if, at 3 to 6 months, your kid isn’t wriggling their legs, seems to flounder in your arms, or doesn’t put their feet down when you attempt to hold her in a standing posture.

Stage 2: Preparing to Crawl

Between 7 and 10 months, the majority of infants begin to rock back and forth on their hands and knees. This action indicates their preparedness to begin crawling. Obviously, some children find alternative modes of transportation, such as scooting on their bottoms.

Whether or not infants crawl may be a factor of temperament. Dr. Hannibal explains, “Some babies are more driven, while others are more laid-back and content to play with whatever is within their reach.” And some kids never crawl (really). Dr. Hannibal notes that there is typically no cause for concern if the child is meeting other developmental goals, such as pulling to stand, cruising on furniture, and using their hands appropriately.

Things to look out for:

Inform your pediatrician if your youngster cannot hold their own weight or lacks the stamina to walk about. Gay Girolami, the executive director of the Pathways Center and a pediatric physical therapist, says that your baby might have low muscle tone or not spend enough time on their stomach. Low muscle tone is when the brain doesn’t send nerve impulses to the muscles or when the muscles don’t receive them, which can lead to weak muscles.

Dr. Hannibal advises parents to notify their pediatrician if their infant is not scooting, rolling, or crawling by age one or if he or she favors one side, especially if other developmental goals are not being met.

Stage 3: Cruise Control

At about 9 or 10 months, children are motivated to pull themselves up to get a better view of the world by their curiosity. And by 11 to 12 months, babies typically take their first steps while holding onto furniture or your hands. This is known as cruising. You may also observe that their feet appear flat during this time. This is partial because the arch has not yet fully grown and is partially concealed by a fat pad that fades around age 2.

Podiatrist Alan Woodle, DPM, advises parents of children with flat feet to consider purchasing shoes with arch supports to assist the development of the arch. Otherwise, support should not be present in infant footwear.

Also, your infant’s feet may turn inward. Again, this is typically nothing to worry about and is likely due to the position of your kid in the womb. Unless the in-toeing is completely inflexible, causing pain or preventing your kid from walking, most pediatricians allow children to outgrow it without assistance.

Things to look out for:

Does your child just use their arms to pull themselves to standing, appear to have difficulties getting up due to stiff legs, fall more than expected, or repeatedly fall to one side? These red flags may indicate various health issues, including joint ailments, spinal cord abnormalities, and cerebral palsy. Discuss the symptoms with your doctor.

Stage 4: Walking

Children require balance, coordination, and assurance to take their first steps. Thus, children reach this milestone at varying ages. Robyn Kaminski of Windermere, Florida, claims that her 18-month-old began to cruise about 9 months, but he didn’t walk until a year. “On his birthday, he took three steps, followed by a few more the next day, and he was off and running.”

Sofia, the daughter of my friend Maria, began walking at 8 months, whereas Anjali, the daughter of my friend Jesse, did not begin walking until she was 15 months old. Dr. Hannibal believes that most pediatricians will not be concerned about a kid who does not walk until 15 months if she appears neurologically sound in other ways.

Things to look out for:

If your kid isn’t walking independently by 15 months, their balance hasn’t improved (for example, they can’t walk independently or have an unsteady stride), or they frequently stumble, appear clumsy, lurch around, and take very small steps, consult your doctor immediately.

Conversely, toe-walking by itself is not a cause for concern. Pediatricians sound the alarm when a youngster never places their feet level on the floor and toe-walking persists for more than 2 1/2 years. But, before you become alarmed, have your child assessed by a physical therapist or pediatric neurologist, as repeated toe-walking may have shortened and tightened the foot muscles.

Reduced muscular tone may also contribute to walking difficulties. Before a pediatric physical therapist identified low muscle tone in her legs and torso, Joanna Hunter of the Bronx, New York, believed her 17-month-old daughter, Julia, was less active than her elder sibling. Hunter recalls that at 17 months, Julia had the mental capacity of a 10-month-old. Julia could independently climb stairs within six months of twice-weekly physical therapy sessions.

Professional Opinions About Milestones

While being aware of the various phases of mobility can be helpful, it is also vital to remember that some children develop mobility earlier than others. Michael Wasserman, M.D., a pediatrician at Ochsner Health Systems in New Orleans, suggests the following rule of thumb: “You may still wait two to three months after the milestone before you panic.”

Nonetheless, despite the encouraging words of my own pediatrician, irrational notions prevailed over me. When Fletcher was six weeks away from his first birthday, my husband and I followed the advice of good parents and crawled on the floor on our hands and knees. That didn’t work. Fletcher was content to remain standing at the coffee table, playing with whatever was within easy reach. Then we realized it.

It appears that Fletcher’s stomach was the key to his movement. We placed his sippy cup at the far end of the coffee table and then watched as the boy, who refused to crawl, sidestepped gently along the length of the table in pursuit of it. Call it thirst or pure bribery, but our child was cruising at last.

Stay calm if your infant is not yet crawling, cruising, or walking. Your child may experience four main stages as they develop into a toddler.

Do Infants Require Shoes for Walking?

If you’re looking for strategies to encourage your child to walk, keep in mind that barefoot is optimal. Baby shoes are cute, but you shouldn’t rush to put them on your child’s feet. Dr. Charles Shubin, assistant professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, advises his young patients to go barefoot or wear socks while learning to walk. “Without the artificial support that shoes provide, feet develop more organically,” he argues.

But you will need to cover your child’s feet at some point, like when you go outside. So that your youngster can readily feel the ground, search for soft, flexible shoes with nonskid soles and no arch support. Dr. Shubin explains, “You want less support because you want him to learn to use the muscles he has.”

Also, keep in mind that children grow rapidly, so check their shoes every two to three months (four to six months for preschoolers) to ensure they are still fit. Tight shoes can lead to hammertoe (when toe joints curl under). According to Seattle podiatrist Alan Woodle, DPM, there should be a quarter-inch gap between the big toe and the tip of the shoe.

Help Your Baby Learn to Walk

You may undertake additional exercises with your children to promote physical activity. Do the following exercises to help your baby develop the strength, balance, and confidence necessary for learning to walk.

Six months and up

Consider using baby gyms, jumpers, and stationary exercise centers as play equipment. Arm and leg muscles will be better prepared for rotating, creeping on bellies, crawling, and walking through these types of exercises.

1 to 2 years

Put a toy out of your infant’s reach or place something against their feet to stimulate crawling and mobility in general.

9 to 10 months

Place your infant near a low table and place tempting objects on it to encourage them to move laterally. This will aid in developing the coordination and arm and leg strength required for standing and cruising.

12 to 15 months

Encourage your baby’s development as a walker by allowing them to push and pull wagons and similar toys or create a cushioned obstacle course.

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