MAJOR MILESTONE: walking
HOW TO GET YOUR BABY MOBILE
When a baby starts to walk it’s not only an exciting occasion (it’s one of those pics that has to be uploaded to Instagram!), for many parents it is also a sign that their baby is developing well. But that also means that if your little guy is happy to sit and play with his train set, while his friends are outside chasing butterflies, you may get concerned. “Is my baby normal?” you may ask?
In some cases one sibling may walk at 15 months while the next is walking by ten. Your ‘late’ walker may well end up captain of the soccer team one day. The bottom line? Infants reach the walking milestone anywhere between nine and 18 months, with the average age being 12 or 13 months, says occupational therapist Jane Bainbridge.
“Remember, babies all master different milestones at different times. Typical developmental age periods for reaching milestones are guidelines only and should be regarded as ranges for development rather than exact time frames,” she says.
THE STEPS BEFORE WALKING
But there is a lot you can do to help them along the way. Before babies can walk they must master three crucial movement abilities. Stability (being able to achieve an upright posture without support), locomotion (your child must be able to move through the environment by other means, whether this is rolling or crawling), and manipulation (he has to learn to manipulate and grasp items to interact with the environment). The more active you allow your baby to be, the more opportunity you give him to develop his milestones, says occupational therapist Susan Holland. “Provide motivation to crawl or walk by placing favoured toys just out of reach and encouraging baby to move towards them. Try to add as much tummy time as you can into your baby’s day in order to promote the development of the neck, back and trunk muscles, and the use of vision. Rolling is a precursor to crawling and walking, so make sure your baby is rolling as much as possible to both sides,” she says.
“By the age of six months, with adequate support of his lower trunk, a baby can stand with support because he has now mastered head, neck and upper trunk control,” says Jane. This is the first sign that he is ready to rumble and get moving.
Before your baby creeps (what we call crawling), they must “crawl”. This is when a baby moves along the ground on their stomach. While this “crawling pattern” of using the arms and legs to slide forward to reach a toy can be seen as early as four months, it’s clearly present in most children at six months. “Crawling, using a samesided pattern of arms and legs, is the first attempt at purposeful locomotion to get from point A to point B,” says Jane.
According to The Mind Moves Institute in Johannesburg, a baby is ready to become mobile when he starts moaning, pushing and shoving, which is a very good sign because it sparks the need for new neural connections to form in the brain, while the baby builds muscle strength. This will enable him to eventually push himself up into an all fours position. Don’t leap up and come to your to baby’s rescue simply because it looks like he’s struggling during this period – you’re robbing him of the opportunity to synchronise the workings of all these systems.
The next step is creeping – the traditional form of reciprocal crawling. Creeping evolves from crawling at about eight to nine months. Here the arms and legs are used in opposite patterns to each other, such as the right arm with the left leg. “Some babies skip the creeping stages altogether and move swiftly onto cruising and walking,” says Jane. So what’s the fuss about creeping, and should you worry if your baby skips it? Jane says that this stage is needed for the consolidation of many foundational skills necessary for more refined movements and skills at later stages of life. When creeping, a baby’s eyes follow their hand movements, teaching their eyes to cross the midline
PROVIDE MOTIVATION TO CRAWL OR WALK BY PLACING TOYS JUST OUT OF REACH
and promoting eye-hand coordination. Later on this ability will help them read and write without losing the words at the middle of the line, and to visually follow the moving hand when writing. “Creeping should be encouraged, and even if your baby skipped it and is reluctant to revert to this stage, try to engage in play activities on the floor,” she says. You can fill in this developmental gap through play.
“You want to create actions that require him to be on all fours. Climb under tunnels, through furniture, or leopard crawl under material or foam
mattresses to find ‘buried treasure’, or play tag in crawling,” suggests Jane. There are fun opportunities to do this every day, such as building sandcastles on the beach while on all fours or getting him to play horsey by getting his stuffed toys to “ride” on his back.
Babies won’t walk until they can support their body weight on their legs. At 10 months babies typically start pulling themselves up against furniture, and rocking on their legs in preparation for that first step. This stage is called cruising.
“Your baby will start to walk sideways by holding onto objects. He may fall down with a bump, before pulling himself up again and continuing to walk while holding onto a support structure. It’s an important stage before walking,” says Jane. This phase strengthens your baby’s legs, increases his balance, and helps him perfect interlimb coordination.
As your baby moves through the stages of walking, from standing with help to walking when led, to walking alone, you will notice changes like his feet starting to turn inwards until they face forwards. Some babies cruise for months before walking; others for only a couple of weeks.
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN
Hooray! By about 12 months your baby will be walking alone with those gorgeous wobbly steps that mark the beginning of his independence. Initially this will be with his hands held high to help him balance. “Soon after mastering walking forwards, your toddler will start to experiment with walking sideways, and then backwards and then on tip-toes,” says Jane. She recommends you provide your toddler with a good old-fashioned wooden trolley with heavy items in it. “This gives him stability to practise his walking, prevents it rolling away from him and also provides good proprioceptive feedback.” This teaches him where his body is in space (body awareness) and also stimulates the joint development. Scooter bikes are also good to help build up muscle and stimulate the vestibular system, says Jane. This helps your baby finetune his balance and increases muscle tone.
ARE YOU A WORRIED MOMMY?
If your child is not walking in the range between nine and 18 months, he is regarded to be at risk for developmental delay. “He will need to be evaluated by a paediatrician, occupational therapist or paediatric physiotherapist to determine whether there are other factors that may be predisposing him to this delay,” says Jane.
And while it may be adorable to watch, walking on tiptoes is not always a good thing. “Babies with shortened Achilles tendons may walk on their tiptoes. These children usually respond well to surgical and therapeutic intervention to regain more normal movement patterns and maximise sensory motor development,” she says.
Things you can do to help your baby master walking include giving them a ball to kick, rough and tumble games to encourage them to get up again, gardening activities to encourage weight bearing, rotation and balance and jumping in puddles. Jane also recommends you give your toddler as many possible opportunities to go barefoot – that means keeping those cute Thomas the Tank Engine sandals for special occasions only.
“Walking barefoot allows for sensory stimulation, proprioceptive feedback and helps develop muscles and ligaments in the foot and strengthens the foot arch,” she says.
Another thing to avoid are walking rings. They may give you a few minutes to attend to the housekeeping, but they prevent the baby from using his core stabilising muscles of his trunk.
“He also bears no weight on his limbs and develops no reciprocal movement patterns. Access to a walking ring allows a baby to move too easily, and early, to the upright position and may encourage them to skip the crawling or cruising stages,” says Jane. She also warns that they allow babies to move too quickly and may lead to injury. YB