MA­JOR MILE­STONE: walk­ing

HOW TO GET YOUR BABY MO­BILE

Your Baby & Toddler - - Front Page - BY LORI CO­HEN

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.

HELLO WORLD!

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

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