Walk this way

Find out how best to sup­port your baby as he takes his first steps

Mother & Baby (Australia) - - Contents -

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!

Wide-gate WALK­ING

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.”

Bal­anced WALK­ING

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

Os­cars for Kids suede loafers, $69.95

Bobux Xplorer ‘Ori­gin One’ shoes, $50

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