What if my child still isn’t walking?

Baby’s first steps are, well, a big step, and babies who walk later in the game can cause their parents a few months’ worry about their rate of development. 

While most babies start walking some time between a few months before and a few months after their first birthdays, babies who start walking as late as 18 months old are still considered to be on a totally normal developmental timeline, and are not even thought to be delayed walkers.

The importance of continuity

The main indication that Baby is just taking this ‘learning to walk’ business at their own pace, instead of walking later due to some kind of developmental delay, is whether they are progressing through physical milestones. If they have started to move themself around in other ways, generally first by crawling, and then by pulling up and cruising, they are probably just making their way through the normal steps at the rate that feels comfortable to them. If they started doing the precursors to walking later, it isn’t necessarily a cause for concern, as long as they are still progressing steadily.

Similarly, children who focus on developing different skills earlier, like communication, may walk later simply because it hasn’t been the skill they’ve been working on developing yet.

The importance of opportunity

Babies who start walking later aren’t always biding their time by choice – some children who start walking later haven’t had as many opportunities to test out their growing bodies or stretch their new physical skills. Children of very busy parents may grow used to moving from stroller to car seat to walker or bouncer without getting much time to try new things – like standing up unsupported, or dancing a polka.

Children need time not just to learn to walk, but to build up the muscles they’ll need when they do, and spending more time in smaller, more structured spaces can delay or get in the way of that development.

Warning signs

Parents of toddlers with floppy or stiff limbs, or more movement or dexterity on one side of the body than the other, or toddlers who haven’t started showing an interest in developing any kind of mobility on their own by around a year old may want to check in with their pediatricians to make sure everything is on-track.

Accounting for preemies 

Children who were born prematurely often walk later because they were born at an earlier stage of development, so it’s the adjusted age – the age they would be if they had been born on their due date – that makes more sense to look at in tracing a child’s walking timeline.

The bottom line

Unless your child doesn’t seem to be moving forward in their physical development, or they seem to be moving jerkily, unevenly, or seems to be having trouble moving, there is really nothing to worry about until around 18 months. Even then, while it’s worth checking in with your pediatrician, there’s a good chance your child is just taking their time working up to walking. Later walkers also tend to be less accident-prone when they do start standing up, so Baby may actually avoid a few of the bumps and bruises along the way.

You can always ask the pediatrician or other healthcare provider any questions that you might have about Baby‘s development.

  • P. Burrows, P. Griffiths. “Do baby walkers delay onset of walking in young children?” Br. J Community Nursing. 7(11):581-6. Web. November 2002.
  • J.D. Chaplais, J.A. Macfarlane. “A review of 404 ‘late walkers.'” Arch Dis Child. Jun;59(6):512-6. Web. June 1984
  • Oskar G Jenni, Aziz Chaouch, Jon Caflisch, Valentin Rousson. “Infant motor milestones: poor predictive value for outcome of healthy children.” Acta Paediatrica. 2013; 102 (4): e181. Web. January 2013.

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