When do babies start walking? When should a baby take their first steps? Of course, these are some of the expected questions from new parents, understandably. It’s natural to be on edge about whether your baby is reaching all their developmental milestones on time, especially when it has to do with walking—one of the most anticipated milestones.
But in reality, all babies are different when it comes to walking. Some walk a little earlier, and some take a little longer to learn to balance properly. The age at which your baby starts walking depends on leg strength and balance control—their ability to support their body weight and maintain balance in an upright position while moving one foot after the other. So be patient, offer lots of encouragement, and you can expect a few hundred steps with dozens of daily falls in a moment.
Here’s what experts say about when a baby should start walking—and what can help or hinder their progress.
What age do babies start walking?
“According to the 2022 updated guideline by the American Academy of Pediatrics [AAP] and Centers for Disease Development and Control [CDC], first steps should occur around 15 months, and by 18 months, a baby should be able to walk without holding onto anyone or anything,” says Dr. Stephanie M. Graebert, MD, a pediatrician with Children’s Hospital New Orleans. “If your baby was born prematurely, you want to use an adjusted age for the first two years of your baby’s life when monitoring milestones. You can calculate this ‘adjusted age’ by subtracting how many weeks early your baby was by their actual age.”
However, it’s important to be aware that children develop at their own pace and in their own way, notes Marielle Marquez, experienced pediatric occupational therapist and founder of Thrive Little. Some babies crawl and cruise for a long period before they start walking, while some babies may skip crawling, and they’re off to the races.
“Try to avoid comparing your child to others. Appreciate what your child is already able to do and remember that there are many foundational skills children work on before they are ready to walk,” says Marquez.
What are the signs a baby will start walking soon?
“If a baby is pulling up to a standing position, cruising (walking side to side while holding onto furniture) and lowering to sitting with slow, controlled movement, they are getting close to walking,” says Marquez.
Are there any factors that can hinder a baby’s walking progress?
Yes. Dr. Graebert suggests that since multiple body systems are needed to walk: the brain, spinal cord, nerves, bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments—an underlying issue with any of these can slow milestone progress.
However, “sometimes developmental delays can be due to fear from the child or not being given enough time to practice walking on their own,” says Dr. Graebert. “Falls are bound to happen when a child is learning their new skills. Make sure the house is childproofed and a safe space is created for tumbles. Loving instinct will certainly kick in when your baby falls and starts to cry, but try to remain calm, it’s part of the process.”
Marquez adds that delayed walking may occur because of an overuse of containers. “Containers (which are anything that contain your baby) are convenient for parents and very popular. If you use swings, bouncers, baby seats, walkers, and jumpers too much, babies are limited in their ability to move and develop naturally. Walkers and jumpers are particularly harmful because they encourage overuse of the plantar flexor muscles that point the toes down and can lead to toe walking and other inappropriate motor patterns.”
Is walking related to other cognitive development?
There is a correlation between walking and cognitive development, adds Marquez. Cognitive development involves your little one’s abilities to focus, learn, process information and even speak about what they learn. “If a child is delayed with walking, they are more likely to have other delays such as delayed cognitive development. Walking is a very complex activity that requires advanced cognitive skills, so it is possible they may also have delayed cognitive development.”
However, Marquez explains that it may not always be the case and depends on the underlying reasons for delayed walking. “If a child has a developmental disorder, genetic syndrome, or neurological condition, it can impact many areas of development.”
Similarly, walking can boost cognitive development, notes Marquez. “Learning to walk also helps to improve cognitive function because of the complex motor planning skills it requires as the child learns to navigate the environment.
A recent study investigated the relationship between walking and selective attention in crawling babies, beginner walkers and babies who were already expert walkers. Selective attention refers to the ability to focus on a particular object in the environment for a certain amount of time while ignoring all other distractions in the environment.
The researchers found that the babies walking performed better than those crawling to find targets in visual search tasks. Visual search is like an everyday task—looking for your friend in a crowded area or bananas in a fruit aisle of a grocery store. Visual search requires control of the eye (vision), attention and memory to find a target, among other distractions—in this case, the babies searched for a red target apple among other gray distractor apples displayed on a screen by keeping their eyes fixed on the target when they find it.
Thus, the researchers suggest that walking experience increases selective attention in babies and may be the reason for the improvement in other cognitive areas, such as language development. But it’s unclear whether age of onset of walking remains significant in selective visual attention when the babies grow beyond infancy.
How can I encourage my baby to start walking?
Dr. Graebert recommends the following tips to help your baby start walking.
- Hold your child’s hand or use push toys to teach them how to put one foot in front of another.
- Do not use infant walkers as the AAP does not recommend them because they do not provide developmental benefits and can potentially be dangerous.
- Give your child lots of time indoors while barefoot; it is the best method to facilitate learning.
- Encourage your child by praising every achievement.
- Place toys just out of reach and on higher surfaces. It can serve as an incentive for babies to start walking.
- When venturing outdoors, choose lightweight shoes that do not constrict the natural movement of the feet. Baby shoes are cute, but some can make taking steps harder.
- Create furniture pathways for a child to creep along; just make sure all sharp edges are protected because accidents are sure to happen in the early stages.
“If your child is not walking by 18 months or their development is not progressing as you’d expect, I recommend discussing your concerns with your pediatrician,” says Dr. Graebert. The CDC and AAP suggest that babies can be checked for general development at any time, at 9, 18, or 30 months and whenever a parent or provider has a concern.
Adolph KE, Berger SE, Leo AJ. Developmental continuity? Crawling, cruising, and walking. Dev Sci. 2011;14(2):306-318. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7687.2010.00981.x
Mulder H, Oudgenoeg-Paz O, Verhagen J, van der Ham IJM, Van der Stigchel S. Infant walking experience is related to the development of selective attention. J Exp Child Psychol. 2022;220:105425. doi:10.1016/j.jecp.2022.105425