During a baby’s first year, they will gradually gain coordination and muscle strength, and learn to sit, roll over and crawl. The next phase is to pull him or herself up to standing, initially with support and then it's a matter of gaining confidence and balance in order to prepare for walking. Babies who bottom-shuffle tend to walk later than babies who crawl.
All babies develop at different rates. The guidance below will show you how to help baby take his or her first steps, address any concerns and advise on whether additional help may be needed.
You can hold your child supported in a standing position from an early age. This allows them to experience the feeling of their body weight through their feet. They may bounce up and down, which develops the strength in their leg muscles.
You can stand your child in many different ways, for example on your lap when you’re sitting in a chair, in front of a coffee table or sofa, or on the sofa cushion next to you with their back against the back cushions.
As they get stronger, they’ll need less support from you and start to use their hands on the furniture to support themselves more. When they can stand briefly without holding on, they’re ready to learn to step along the furniture or ‘cruise’.
Babies pull themselves to standing at furniture to prepare for standing without holding on and eventually walking.
A child may start to pull to stand as early as nine months of age or as late as 18 months. Children who bottom shuffle rather than crawl are often later in pulling to stand. At first they’ll be unable to get back down to sitting in a controlled way, and will ‘plop’ back onto their bottom.
It’s important for your child to spend lots of time every day on the floor playing in different positions.
The Association of Paediatric Chartered Physiotherapists doesn’t recommend the use of baby walkers and door bouncers. Baby bouncers and baby walkers can actually delay a child’s ability to learn to pull to stand and to stand without help. This is because they support the child in a position they’re not developmentally ready for and don’t allow the child the opportunity to develop strength in the right muscles. Because you have to lift them in and out of the equipment they can’t learn how to move in and out of standing for themselves.
Once your child is confident in standing, they’ll be keen to explore by taking steps. They will usually side step along furniture first.
As they stand at a coffee table or sofa, place a toy just out of their reach. This will encourage them to try and step sideways along the furniture towards it. Walking along furniture helps them develop strength and balance.
As their confidence increases, they’ll hold on with one hand only and eventually let go. You can walk along with your child holding their hands until they’re ready to let go.
Push-along toys can be fun as a child moves from cruising to walking independently. Heavier wooden trolley style toys give them more stability than lighter plastic ones.
Walking patterns vary from one child to another. It’s easy to feel concerned about the following things, but they’re all normal variations that don’t need checking by a physiotherapist:
If at around six months when lying or standing they either hold their legs in a stiff position or in a very relaxed ‘froglike’ position, or by nine months they lift their legs up when you place them in a standing position, please speak to your health visitor.
If by twelve months of age If they find it difficult to pull up into a standing position because their legs are stiff or they walk on tiptoes, please speak to your health visitor.
If they can’t stand from the floor without using furniture for support by two years old, please speak to your health visitor or GP.