Your baby's first step on her own, without holding on to anything, is an exciting milestone for any new parent. But your baby will do quite a bit of practicing on her two feet before it happens.
Babies start to stand up, sit down, and take their first steps while supported (either by mom or dad's fingers or anything else nearby) at around 9 to 12 months old. During this time, there are things you can do to encourage your child's newfound skill until she can confidently walk on her own.
1. Avoid carrying your baby often.
The more time your little one spends on her feet, the more practice and encouragement she gets to walk. Instead of carrying her from the living room to the kitchen for lunchtime, for example, have her walk in front of you while she holds on to your fingers.
Try to limit the time she spends in a playpen, too. “Activity centers don’t boost walking skills even if your baby can stand up and play in one,” says What to Expect. “Remember, she needs to develop her torso and arm muscles in order to walk — not just the leg muscles — so don’t keep her in there for longer than 30 minutes at a time.”
2. Let your baby “cruise” a lot.
Cruising is when your baby “walks” from one part of the room to another by using furniture, like the couch, the edge of the bed or coffee table, for support, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). This is a sign that your baby will start walking on her own soon. Until then, let him cruise whenever you can. Just make sure you’re always close by and keeping a watchful eye.
Anything he can use for support should be secure, stable and will not topple over. There should be no sharp corners or loose cords (such as electrical wiring or cords from window blinds) in the room within your baby’s reach. Floor play mats help ensure safer landings.
3. Don't get a walker.
The AAP is strongly against walkers for babies. Despite their name, walkers do not help a baby learn to walk. In fact, they can even do the opposite and delay the process. “Because they make it so easy for your child to get around, walkers can prevent a baby's upper leg muscles from developing correctly,” explains BabyCenter.
Instead, you can opt for a push toy. “Once the child is upright and cruising along furniture, a push toy can help her learn to walk forward with support,” says pediatrician Dr. Carrie M. Brown to The Bump. “Some of these toys can even have the wheels adjusted so they’ll move more slowly while the child is first learning.”
4. Going barefoot is okay.
Baby shoes are cute but your little one doesn’t need them yet! Experts recommend letting your baby go barefoot as this helps improve balance and coordination. “Whether your child is a pre-walker or walking unsupported, it’s best for her to be barefoot when possible—let her bones develop the way they were meant to, without any restrictions. Shoes should be reserved for when you are outside,” says pediatrician Dr. Dina Kulik in a column for Today's Parent.
5. Know that stumbles and falls are part of learning.
Falls, stumbles, bumps, and bruises are all part of the process a little one goes through to learn how to walk. Take pains to make sure you provide a safe environment but accept that booboos will happen. “Offer a quick hug or a reassuring word and send your little one on her way again. She won’t be unduly upset by these falls if you’re not,” advises the AAP.
So, let your child roam and explore on her newfound ability to walk on her feet. Soon enough, you’ll be frantically running all over the place trying to keep up with her.