When do babies start walking?

June 17, 2014

in Early Learning, glenn doman, preschool education, Raising children

Babies start walking when they are ready. They all get there in the end, so don’t worry if your baby is not walking yet.

Have you heard such advice before? It’s what many people think, but it’s not the whole truth. There are a lot of tricks you can use to help your child become mobile and build up the muscles required for sitting, crawling and walking. I didn’t know any of this when I had my first daughter, who took her first steps when she was 14 1/2 months old. When my second daughter was born, I happened to come across Glenn Doman and his book “Fit Baby, Smart Baby” and followed some of his methods. My second daughter took her first steps at 7 1/2 months, and by the time she was 14 1/2 months, she was independently climbing stairs, playing football and jumping on the trampoline.

Why would you even want your child to become mobile early? Anybody who has seen the joy of a child learning to crawl or to walk will know that it makes a tremendous difference to their happiness if they learn to walk early. Children love exploring and choosing their own toys, their own areas of interest, and becoming mobile gives them a sense of independence and control. Becoming mobile is fantastic for a baby’s development, as they can explore and study their environment, rather than sitting in a bouncy chair or buggy, passively observing the part of the environment of their parents’ choosing. The downside of following this approach? It’s exhausting. I had a baby who refused to sit in a bouncy chair, buggy or car seat, as she tried to climb out as soon as she could. When she started to walk at 7 1/2 months, she didn’t really understand the dangers around her and constantly bumped her head, no matter how carefully we watched her. Now that she is 18 months, however, I am extremely happy we chose this path. While other toddlers her age are still trying to walk confidently and are just learning to climb stairs, she can run, play football, climb climbing frames, ride a scooter, climb a ladder, sit on a swing (a proper one, not a baby swing) and is learning new skills every day.

If you are interested in supporting your baby’s mobility, here is what you can do for your baby and why it helps:

Babies are mobile from birth, and funnily enough, the main thing we need to do to support their mobility is to stop interfering with their inborn ability to crawl by letting them have as much tummy time as possible. If you have read Kafka’s Metamorphosis, you get an idea of how a baby feels when put on their back constantly. What looks like random movements of their arms and legs when babies are on their back, are actually early crawling movements that would help the baby move forward when placed on its tummy.

When your baby is born, the earliest opportunity for tummy time is on your own body. Lie on your back or in an inclined position, and hold your baby on your chest on its tummy. You will notice how your baby tries to move around and starts using its arms and legs to push forward and upwards. Paediatricians recommend that babies sleep on their back, but that does not mean you cannot support their tummy time as often as possible while you baby is awake. You can start tummy time on your body first, to make sure your baby is happy. Your baby will slowly build up its muscles and be able to lift its head independently (my daughter could do this from birth, and around 5 weeks it was evident enough that she could push herself up that I was confident doing tummy time on the bed or on the floor.

Once you feel your baby is ready for tummy time on the floor, make sure you set up the surface in a way that supports mobility. Glenn Doman advocates a crawling track, which was too complicated for me, so I went with the backup option of purchasing a brand new yoga mat. For tummy time, I took my daughter’s socks off so she could push herself forward with her bare feet. I went down on the floor with her so we had eye contact and would put interesting and colourful toys in front of her. As soon as she showed signs of unhappiness, I would immediately take her, cuddle her and praise her.

Glenn Doman says that babies spend so much time sleeping that letting them sleep on their tummy is actually a major way they practice movement and crawling during sleep hours. I know this is controversial as the recommendation is for babies to sleep on their backs due to SIDS risk, but I chose to study the research papers intensively to make up my own mind on this. I wasn’t convinced that SIDS risk is increased by letting a baby sleep in the prone position. But I respect that not everybody is confident enough to make such a decision, so you can follow a different approach. What I first did was to wait till my daughter could lift her head up herself, and then I only let her sleep on her tummy for naps while I was lying next to her. Then I would let her nap on her tummy, which had the benefit that she would sleep much better than on her back (and she was far too mobile from the beginning to accept being swaddled, unlike my older daughter who was swaddled until she was about 4 months old). When she was about 6 weeks old, I was comfortable letting her sleep in the prone position during the night.

We also made sure to follow the recommendation to limit times when the baby is trapped on her back as much as possible. We didn’t put her in the buggy but used a sling instead. We hardly ever used the bouncy chair after the first month (and even if we wanted to, she protested and tried to crawl out). She was always on our lap, in the sling or on her tummy. Due to frequent tummy time on me and the yoga mat, as well as sleeping on her tummy, my daughter had extensive opportunity to practice her arm and back muscles. She was crawling by 5 months, sitting by 6 months, pulling herself up and cruising by 7 months and took her first steps at 7 1/2 months, although she was only walking properly by 8 months (it took a few weeks of taking only 5 steps at a time).

A lot of what you need to do is simply to change your mindset and trust your baby to develop on her own. Don’t interfere with her natural curiosity and drive to become mobile. Don’t strap your baby or stop her from exploring her surroundings to make your own life easy. Trust me, sometimes I wished my daughter would accept sitting in a car seat or buggy, as it would have been much easier for me. I could have gotten to the playground much faster if she hadn’t insisted on walking herself at 12 months! But once your baby can walk, make sure she has the opportunity to practice every day. If she wants to go up and down stairs, don’t stop her but instead go with her up and down the stairs thirty times to let her practice (that’s how I spent my holidays when she was 11 months old).

There are more ideas in the book “Fit Baby, Smart Baby”, and I think it is a great read, but even if you only follow the steps outlined above, I’d be surprised if your baby isn’t walking by 12 months! The average time babies started walking, by the way, used to be around 12 months, but in recent decades, since bouncy chairs and buggies have become more common and more babies sleep on their backs and have no tummy time, the new average is around 14 months. Among babies who enjoy free movement and plenty of tummy time, however, the average time they walk is much closer to 10 – 12 months, depending on the child and how much opportunity to be mobile they get.

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