Walk this way
Find out how best to support your baby as he takes his first steps
Simply enjoy supporting him as he goes on his own walking journey.
T here are some baby milestones that every parent is impatient to see: first smile, first word, first sleep-throughthe-night. But nothing causes such a stir as that very first totter across the floor. “It’s exciting!” says paediatric physiotherapist Karen Mayes, not least because exactly when it will happen is anybody’s guess: “Every child develops at his own sweet pace, and will only walk when he’s good and ready!”
The earliest a baby will start moving out of the crawling stage and begin trying to pull himself up is at around eight months old. But some babies don’t feel the need to get up on their feet until 18 months old. That’s a difference of 10 months – which can feel very frustrating if your little one is still lounging around on the living room carpet while your best friend’s toddler is trotting here, there and everywhere. But once you know just how many skills your baby has to master before he can move from crawling to walking, it’s much easier to relax and simply enjoy supporting him as he goes on his own walking journey.
“You’ll be amazed at how many skills he needs to develop before he’s ready to wobble across the floor on two feet,” says Karen.
Those skills start developing from the moment your baby is born. You might think your newborn has spent most of his time snoozing and feeding, but every movement he makes is building up his neck and back muscles, so he gains enough strength to hold his head up against the pull of gravity.
“Gaining that head control was the very first step your baby took along the road to walking,” says Karen. “In the months that followed, he’s been busy building up muscle strength, spatial awareness and coordination – all skills that he’ll need to walk. Any time he had to move freely, unconstrained by being in a pram or car seat, was time he could use to develop the muscles and body awareness he needs to move towards walking.”
And even then, when he’s gathered all the skills he needs, going from simply standing up on two feet to moving them in a balanced and coordinated way so that he can stay upright on them is no mean feat. So read on for our guide to a baby’s eye view of mastering the tricky art of walking, and get ready to cheer your baby on his way to becoming a fully fledged toddler!
Holding & CRUISING
Your baby – who has so far spent most of his life in a horizontal position – is now vertical and this literally changes his view of the world. He now has to learn to use his body in a totally new way in that position, so it’s no wonder that it can take a while to build the confidence to try!
“Moving from standing to taking small steps while hanging onto the sofa – or you – is about confidence as well as strength and balance,”says Karen. “Your baby has to work out that he needs to lift his foot, shift his weight, swing his foot forward, put it down, transfer his weight onto it and then lift the other foot and balance his body on the other side.
“That’s a lot of skills and it’s a big move for a tiny person.” So make sure that he has plenty of time to practise, encourage his efforts and help him manage the frustration that’s part and parcel of learning a new skill. Give him time and encouragement and he’ll get there!
So he’s taken the leap and is lurching from the sofa to the armchair and back like a drunken cowboy – and it’s very, very tempting to try to stop him from falling over. But don’t! “Falling is really important,” says Karen. “Every time a baby falls, he’s learning about balance, how far to push himself and what the limitations of his body are.”
To move from cruising to walking, he needs to build his confidence, his coordination and his strength that little bit more. He also needs to improve his spatial awareness so he knows where his body is in relation to all the other things in the room that might trip him up. And falling is part and parcel of this learning curve: research shows that, on average, babies fall 17 times an hour when they’re learning to walk.
“Give him a safe, soft space to lurch about in and then let him get on with this physical exploration,” says Karen. So slice open a pool noodle and wrap it around the edge of the coffee table, and pad any corners with pipe insulation. Stack cushions on any hard surfaces and clear any clutter out of the way.
Every time a baby falls, he’s learning about what the limitations of his body are.
Learning TO STOP
Just when he’s got to grips with moving, he needs to work out how to stop. When he first starts taking steps, you’ll see him swerve, speed up and slow down as he works out how to apply the brakes. To begin with, his only braking method, other than walking into the sofa, is to fall over. But as he works on his balance, he also practises tensing and relaxing his muscles, so he’ll eventually learn how to stop. “Your baby will fine-tune his brakes through trial and error,” says Karen. “To help him master them, make the process fun for him.”
All that practice makes perfect – eventually! “The more steps he takes, the more adept he’ll become,” says Karen. Exactly how long it takes for him to be toddling without wobbling depends a lot on how much practise he gets, but usually around six months after he took his first steps, he’ll be walking with his feet closer together, his steps will become longer and more controlled and he’ll use his arms less for balance. “He’ll build his confidence, coordination, muscle strength and sense of balance.
And as he gets better at all these things, he’ll get further and fall less,” says Karen. Keep an eye on his feet and you’ll notice his arches start to lift as he gets stronger. But there’s still a lot to learn and he will constantly challenge himself. He’ll carry things, work out how to pull a toy behind him and to negotiate going up and down slopes, all without losing his balance. All this means that he still needs plenty of time to potter about the house and garden, so he can toddle up to the top of this learning curve. Next stop, running!
If the SHOE FITS
As soon as your little one starts to walk on his own, you will probably be tempted to rush straight out and buy shoes to protect his precious little feet. However, experts say that, to start off with, it’s best to let those little piggies roam free.
WHY BAREFOOT IS BEST
Anna Beetham, podiatrist and Bobux ambassador, says going barefoot is best for babies and toddlers to encourage a natural, healthy gait. “Your child’s little feet start life incredibly soft and pliable, so they need absolute flexibility to develop as Mother Nature intended,” she says. Tight-fitting socks, shoes with rigid soles and materials that don’t move with the foot can impede natural, healthy development.
Allowing your little one to go barefoot as much as possible enhances balance and sensory ability, and improves muscle strength, contributing to good posture. “It’s been shown that children with the healthiest and most supple feet are those who habitually go barefoot,” says Anna.
Allowing your little one to go barefoot as much as possible enhances balance
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