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Dr Anna Maw

Consultant pediatrician at Cambridge University NHS Trust in the UK. A child doctor specializing in brain development and neurology. She has three children.
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Physical development

How can I encourage my baby’s walking and mobility?

It's hugely important, way before your baby can walk, to have them out of the pram, bouncy chair etc for a good amount of time every day. They need to be encouraged to move as much as possible and spend time on their tummy, at whatever stage they're at. Here is a guide to the sorts of movements you can be encouraging as your baby develops physically in the first 18 months.
Video Tutorial
In Short
Build back muscles - “Tummy Time” helps to strengthen your baby’s back muscles. Lie her on a clean mat on her tummy and she will practice lifting her heads. You can do this together as well with them on your legs if your baby doesn't like tummy time on the floor.

Rolling both ways - By around 5 months start to encourage them to roll over – place a little toy just out of reach.

Crawling - Probably starting around 6 months, crawling has lots of different styles. Give your baby lots of time on a carpet or rug to practise. Put little toys out of reach to encourage her to try and locomote forwards, though they may go backwards at first.

Cruising - Probably starting around 9 months – encourage your baby by setting up a series of solid chairs or the sofa to hold on to.

Walking - Probably around 1 year. Help your baby by holding her hands so she practices stepping and bearing her weight. Avoid wheelie “walking frames"

Bare feet are best to develop balance. 

If your baby is walking by 18 months ask your doctor to check her over.

Encouraging Your Baby’s Mobility

It’s hugely important, way before your baby can walk, to have her out of the pram, bouncy chair etc. for a good amount of time every day. Babies need to be encouraged to move as much as possible, at whatever stage they’re at. Remember all the ages mentioned below will be later for premature babies who’ll need longer to get their strength.

Gaining back strength and lifting heads
11-head-control

The first thing you can help with is strengthening your baby’s back muscles. You can do this with what’s called ‘Tummy time’ from whenever she’s showing signs of being able to lift her head.

You can simply lie your baby somewhere firm and soft (like a mat on the floor) on her tummy, and she will practice lifting her heads and maybe arch her back up.

It’s nice though to do it together. You can sit on the ground, bending your knees up and lie your baby on your thighs, so her heads pop up above your knees, looking away from you. You can then have your partner looking at your baby and encouraging her to look up and having a short chat with them. When your baby needs a rest, she can drop their head back down on your knees. You can give her a lovely back massage while you’re doing this as well.

Rolling over

By around five months most babies can roll over, but they might start from around 3 months. You can encourage your baby by giving her lots of time to practice, and by placing a small toy just out of reach that she’ll need to roll over to get. Remember to give her lots of encouragement and praise!

Crawling

son crawling in her father's hands on green grass

Babies crawl in all sorts of funny ways, it might be the classic on all fours, but it might be on their bottoms or sideways. This will probably happen between the ages of around 6-10 months but some babies never crawl. Crawling is quite complex and requires a lot of brain development and coordination. Learning to crawl can take a while, so lots of time on a good safe surface like a clean carpet or rug, or grass in the park, is important. As for rolling over, put a favourite toy a small distance away so your baby needs to crawl to get it. She’ll take longer to learn if she’s always in the pram or bounce chair or might never learn so make time each day for tummy time and crawling.

If your baby is crawling sideways, it’s usually fine, but note that if she always favour one side, it might indicate other problems so it’s important to have this checked by your doctor.

Cruising

Cruising means walking holding on to things like sofas or mum and dad. With their duck-like gait, the lack of foot arches and under-developed balance make early walking really difficult for your baby. Help her along by providing a nice series of big chairs or sofas that she can hold onto and move along.

Cruising might start at about 9 months, but it’s often much later so do not fret. Your baby will probably start by working out how to bend her knees and how to sit after standing.

If cruising hasn’t happened by around 18 months, it is worth getting your baby checked out by your doctor as 99% of children are walking by this age.

How can I help my baby practice cruising and walking?

Step one is you can encourage your baby to squat down from a standing position by placing something interesting on the floor that she has to squat down to grab. At first, she may just fall down to the floor to get close to the toy, but after a while, she will be able to squat down grab the toy and stand back up. All this pulling to stand, squatting up and down, and cruising from side to side, helps your baby develop the strength, balance, and coordination necessary for walking.

Step two is once your baby is getting ready to cruise, you can help her practice walking by holding both her hands and letting her ‘walk’ in front of you. Holding hands stimulates development of the part of their brains which controls balance and coordination. It’s like a feedback loop. When they’re ready, drop down to one hand.

A fun way to encourage your baby to cruise is to set up a “commando” course around your living room or you can encourage her by helping her to stand up holding on to one end of the sofa and putting a favourite toy at the other end, so she has to ‘cruise’ along to reach it!

So never force them if they’re not ready. This includes the baby walkers you can buy babies where they sit in a harness and roll around pushing with their legs. These aren’t good for babies’ development. They need to cruise slowly, building up their brain development and coordination in tandem with their strength.

You can also help your baby cruise by propping them up next to the sofa. Then they’ll be in the right start position and can then themselves along the sofa on their own.

You can place some of their favourite toys on the edge of the sofa. This way they’ll be encouraged to climb up on the sofa. Once they’re up, move the toy along the sofa a little so they’ll edge along to get it.

Should I buy my baby a walking device?

Unlike the baby walkers with rollers (mentioned above), a tiny pushchair is a good idea. They baby still has to get up on their own and move on their own, but the pushchair is like a tiny zimmer frame to give them some extra support without taking control of them.

What about encouraging them to walk?

Don’t push things is the golden rule. Lots of holding both hands, then one hand, is the best thing to encourage walking.

Give them as much time to practice as you can, out in the park or at home on the carpet.

Most babies are walking by about a year but the range is around 9 to 18 months.

If your baby is 18 months and is still not walking, you should talk to your doctor. You should also mention if your baby tends to really favour one side of their body or so a weakness in one side.

Bare feet or shoes?

Small feet of a child watching a book

Practice cruising or walking at home or in the park just in bare feet, non-slip socks or soft leather shoes so their feet will learn all the little movements needed to balance. Wearing rigid shoes all the time impedes the use of the foot to bend and move in all directions.

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DISCLAIMER
This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.