Your baby will hit many developmental milestones during the first year of life. These include learning how to hold their bottle, rolling over, crawling, sitting up, and eventually walking without assistance.
If you’ve read books on child development, or if you have other children, you may expect your baby to take their first steps somewhere between 10 and 12 months. So if your baby doesn’t begin walking by 14 months, you may worry.
It’s important to remember that babies develop and reach milestones at different ages. The fact that your baby isn’t walking by 14 months doesn't always indicate a problem.
Should you worry if your baby isn’t
If your baby isn’t walking by 14 months, your concerns are understandable. You want your child to reach milestones, and you don't want your baby to lag behind other children of similar age. But a baby being unable to walk at 14 months isn't usually indicative of a problem. While some babies begin walking before 12 months, others don’t walk until 16 or 17 months.
To determine whether your baby’s inability to walk is a cause for concern, consider the big picture. For example, although your baby is unable to walk at 14 months, you may notice that your baby is able to perform other motor skills with no problem, like standing alone, pulling up on furniture, and bouncing up and down.
These are signs that your baby’s motor skills are developing. Therefore, you may witness their first steps soon. Continue to monitor your baby’s progress. If your baby doesn't walk by the age of 18 months, talk with your doctor.
You should also talk to your doctor if you feel your baby’s motor skills aren’t developing properly. This might be the case if your 14-month-old is unable to stand, pull up, or bounce.
It's also important to realize that some babies born prematurely begin walking later than children of the same age. If your baby was premature, don’t immediately panic over their inability to walk. Use your child’s adjusted age when tracking developmental milestones. The adjusted age is based on your baby’s original due date.
If you have a 14-month-old, but you gave birth three months early, your baby’s adjusted age is 11 months. In this case, it may take your baby an additional two to three months to learn how to balance and walk, which is normal. Don’t worry. In all likelihood, your baby will catch up.
How do babies learn to walk?
Babies learn to walk gradually as they become bigger and their leg muscles become stronger. Because of weak muscles, a newborn’s legs can’t support their weight. Typically, babies begin scooting or crawling around the age of 7 months. Around this age they also begin to bounce up and down while being held in a standing position. This action helps strengthen your baby’s leg muscles in preparation for taking their first steps.
Around the age of 8 to 9 months, your baby may begin pulling up on objects, like chairs and tables. Some babies even lift their feet up and down while holding onto an object, as if they’re about to walk.
Walking involves balance and confidence. Not only does your baby learn how to stand up alone, there’s also the challenge of learning how to coordinate steps without falling. This takes time.
Since babies develop strength in her legs at different ages, it’s normal for some babies to walk sooner than others. Some babies take their first steps as early as 9 or 10 months.
How to help your baby walk
Some babies that don’t begin walking by 14 months simply need more practice. To help babies take their first steps, parents and caregivers can get on the floor and hold their hands while they’re in a standing position. Slowly guide the baby across the floor. This exercise teaches babies how to lift their legs and move across the room. It also helps babies develop stronger leg muscles and improves their balance.
As a parent, you may have a natural urge to hold or carry your baby while at home. But the more floor time your baby receives, the more opportunity your baby has to become mobile and walk independently. Allow your baby to scoot, crawl, and pull up as often as possible.
Baby walkers are often used as a teaching tool for babies learning to walk. But these are not a safe choice. Surprisingly, baby walkers can delay walking in babies. Some babies have also been injured as a result of walkers. You may consider using a push toy, but you should always supervise your baby with these to make sure they don’t tip over.
Some parents also think putting shoes on their baby’s feet can help them walk faster. The truth is, shoes often make it harder for babies to take their first steps. Shoes are recommended for outdoor walking, but many babies learn to walk faster when barefoot inside the home.
As you help your baby learn to walk, make sure you create a safe environment inside the home. This includes removing rugs that may trip your baby and cause injury. You can also install safety gates near staircases, and remove tables or shelves with sharp edges.
When to see a doctor
Although you shouldn't panic if your baby is a delayed walker, there’s no harm in speaking with your doctor if your baby isn’t walking by 1 1/2, or earlier if you suspect a problem. Sometimes, delayed walking is caused by a foot or leg problem such as developmental hip dysplasia, rickets (softening or weakening of bones), or conditions that affect muscle tone like cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. Check with your doctor if your baby seems to limp or if the legs appear weak or uneven.
Remember that no two children are alike, so don’t compare your baby’s progress with other children, or become overly anxious if your baby doesn’t walk by 14 months. When it comes to walking, some children are slow learners — but they don’t stay too far behind.