How To Know When Your Baby Is Ready To Walk

Mother helping baby boy walk

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Healthy babies develop at different rates—and learning to walk is no different. Many parents worry if their child has not hit this key developmental milestone by 12 months old. But, you may be relieved to know that 1 year is too soon to begin to worry.

This article explains the signs you might notice as your baby starts approaching the walking milestone, how you can encourage them, and symptoms of delay that may warrant a conversation with a healthcare provider.

Typical Timelines

While plenty of babies take their first steps by 12 months or before, it's also perfectly normal for a child to not be walking at their first birthday and for several months after that. In fact, many babies don't start toddling at all until around 13 months. Some may not even walk until 15 to 16 months of age—and that's still in the typical range.

"Many babies don't walk by their first birthday," says Alisa Baer, MD, board-certified pediatrician, nationally certified child passenger safety instructor, and co-founder of The Car Seat Lady. Instead of looking at walking alone, Baer looks for other milestones, like if a baby can do the following:

  • Bear weight on legs when supported at 12 months
  • Pull themselves to a stand at 15 months
  • Cruise (walking while holding objects) at 15 months

Alisa Baer, MD

Many babies don’t walk by their first birthday.

— Alisa Baer, MD

Remember that every child is different and has their own developmental timetable. Plus, studies show that early walking isn't correlated with better coordination or cognition later in life. So it's just fine for your baby to take their time before taking those much-anticipated first steps.

How to Encourage Walking

Even though your child is operating at their own pace, you can always give a little encouragement. Your baby may be more likely to explore on two feet with these activities.

Move the Action Upward

Maybe your child is an expert crawler who finds little interest in walking. If they're entirely mobile and crawling serves them well, they may be less motivated to experiment with walking. However, if you start to move the action off the floor, they might be suddenly interested in giving walking a go.

Start putting toys on the edge of the couch or up on a coffee table. Then, when that has their interest piqued, and they are regularly pulling up and cruising the furniture, move the coffee table a little further from the couch, so they have to take an unassisted step to get from one place to another. (Be sure to baby-proof any hard edges or corners of your furniture.)

Alisa Baer, MD

Letting your child go barefoot while in the house whenever possible can help.

— Alisa Baer, MD

Also, keep in mind that babies need good traction to move around. "Kids can often have the best grip when barefoot on a surface with good traction (not a slippery floor)," says Baer. "So letting your child go barefoot while in the house whenever possible can help. With shoes, those that have flexible soles are best for new walkers."

Entice Them With a Toy

Let your child pull up using a sturdy chair if you're sitting on the floor. Then sit a couple of feet away with a favorite toy and see if they try to take that single step to get to you or the toy.

Also, make sure that you're not always providing a little circle of toys right around your child on the floor, as proximity to easy entertainment can discourage exploration outside of their comfort zone.

Instead, try spreading toys out around your child so they have some motivation to get moving. Not so much that it's frustrating, but just enough out of reach that they are willing to work for it a bit.

Alisa Baer, MD

Egg shakers are great for kids to hold, as they make noise as the child moves.

— Alisa Baer, MD

In addition, sometimes the feeling of holding something can help. "Some kids will take more independent steps in the beginning when their hands are full (each holding a small toy or object) rather than empty," says Baer. "Egg shakers are great for kids to hold, as they make noise as the child moves." 

Offer Free Time on the Floor

Other children may not be interested in walking because they don't get a lot of opportunities to practice. For example, some children are perfectly content to hang out playing in an exersaucer, high chair, playpen, crib, or even in your arms.

That's perfectly fine, but make sure you also give them plenty of time to roam freely on the floor (supervised, of course), so they can put those emerging large motor skills to use.

"Be sure your child has a safe area to play on the floor that has safe objects for them to pull to stand on," says Baer. She adds that parents should also ensure that furniture—especially TVs and anything with drawers that pull out—is anchored to the wall for safety.

You might think that an exersaucer, jumper, or stationary sit-in walker (note that mobile baby walkers are not safe, as they can cause injury) is helping them learn to stand and walk. However, research has found just the opposite.

In fact, despite the names of these products, research shows that these baby "walking" aids don't help babies walk sooner, can hinder their progress toward the first steps, and even disrupt a child's natural gait.

That's because babies use different muscle groups with these devices than when learning to walk. In addition, they rely on the device to catch them instead of learning to balance themselves.

Luckily, a child who loves the exersaucer is also likely to love toys with a wide, supportive base and wheels with a slow, restricted roll. These safe toddler walker toys provide something secure to hold onto as children learn to walk and balance. As a bonus, these products take up a lot less floor space than an exersaucer.

Let Them Make Mistakes

If you're worried about your child getting hurt, remember this: It's going to happen—often when you're right by their side or just out of reach. Your child will lose their balance, fall, bump their head, or cut their lip.

Alisa Baer, MD

Be sure your child has a safe area to play on the floor that has safe objects for them to pull to stand on.

— Alisa Baer, MD

It's natural to want to keep them safe from any harm, but it's important to let your toddler take the necessary tumbles along the way to learning to walk—that's why they're called toddlers, after all. A few bumps and bruises are part of the learning process, and there's little you can do to prevent that (aside from baby-proofing).

Focus on what you can do to keep your toddler safer. You can:

  • Use a bumper around edges or sharp corners of furniture.
  • Purchase toddler socks with grippy soles.
  • Invest in some area rugs for those spots where your child often plays.

And when they do fall? Just be ready with a bandage, a hug, an encouraging "good job," and a kiss for their boo-boo.

When to Call the Doctor

Again, most kids will begin to walk sometime between their first birthday and around 16 months, no matter what their parents do or don't do. However, be sure to discuss any concerns you may have if your child still hasn't shown any interest in walking by 15 to 16 months, particularly if they are late on other milestones.

If your child has any of the following signs, you should contact a doctor:

  • Suddenly stops walking
  • Does not take any independent steps by 15 months
  • Cannot walk independently by 18 months
  • Walks unsteadily at 2 years
  • Has an unusual gait at 3 years

Sometimes, a delay in walking can signify a developmental delay that requires treatment, or another medical issue could be at play. Usually, though, everything is fine, and your toddler may start toddling any day—even after showing no signs of trying just a week or so before.

A Word From Verywell

Most parents anxiously await their child's first steps—and it is super exciting to watch your baby learn to walk. But try to be patient and not worry too much about when it happens. Instead, savor the big moment when it comes—and be ready with a kiss and a bag of frozen veggies or a popsicle to soothe those bumps and bruises that come hand-in-hand with those first steps. If your child hasn't taken any steps by 15 months, bring this up with a healthcare provider.

Updated by
Kathi Valeii
Person with shoulder-length hair, wearing clear glasses and a denim jacket leans against a building.

Kathi Valeii is a freelance writer covering the intersections of health, parenting, and social justice.

 

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Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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