The last step on the way to being an upright human being is cruising – which means walking holding on to things like sofas or mum and dad. Babies’ duck-like gaits, lack of foot arches and under-developed balance make early walking really difficult.
When will my baby switch from crawling to cruising?
This might start at about nine months – but it’s often much later, so do not fret. Your baby will probably start by working out how to bend their knees and how to sit after standing. At around the same time they might start pulling themselves up to standing by holding on to furniture.
After mastering the standing position, at about 12 months, they’ll usually start moving from one piece of furniture to the next for support. They may even be able to let go and stand on their own – usually not for very long before they bump down onto their bottom!
When your baby cruises, they will take sideways crab steps to get around. Your baby may even be able to walk a little at this point while gripping your hand or both hands, although the first steps alone usually take a few weeks or months after cruising starts. The first steps are usually quite wibbly wobbly. At 12 months, many toddlers are walking on their own – although they look a bit like a drunken sailor. If this hasn’t happened by around 18 months, it is worth getting them checked out by your health practitioner as 99% of children are walking by this age.
Can I help my baby practise cruising and walking?
Early on while they’re learning, you can encourage your baby to squat down from a standing position by placing something interesting on the floor while they are standing. They may bend down to grab it. At first they may just fall down to the floor to get close to the toy, but after a while they 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.
Helping them practise walking by holding hands stimulates development of the part of their brain that controls balance and coordination. It’s like a feedback loop. So never force them if they’re not ready. Start with both hands and, when they’re ready, drop down to one hand. You can also help by propping them up next to the sofa, so they’ll be in the right start position and can then ease along the sofa on their own.
To make things fun and keep your baby interested in standing, 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 or to hold on to the edge of the sofa once they’re standing.
Also – you could make a kind of ‘commando course’ around the house! If your baby likes following a particular route – say from a sofa over to a big old chair – then once they can do that easily, move the chair a little bit further from the sofa, so they need to take a step.
Should I buy my baby a walking device?
Lots of babies love having a tiny pushchair they can push around on their own – a bit like a miniature Zimmer frame. It gives them some support and balance, without taking over control from them. So, unlike a walking device, which keeps them upright and walking even if they don’t want to be – if they lose balance they can still fall onto their bottoms.
Baby walkers – where your baby sits in the middle and there are wheels on the bottom, so they can propel themselves around – do not really teach your baby how to walk, however, as they remain in a near sitting position.
What should I do to make sure my baby is safe?
Generally the house needs to be baby-proofed, since they are now mobile. They will also get more and more mobile very quickly. Everything dangerous – sharp or poisonous things, cleaning products, etc – must go up out of reach. Sharp corners need to be covered. Stairguards need to be positioned at the top and bottom of the stairs.
Also, since your baby will be hanging tightly onto furniture to keep upright, make sure everything is sturdy. Don’t leave flimsy chairs around, since your baby may try pulling themselves up holding on to them. Keep folding chairs put away so your baby can’t trap their fingers.
Should I be concerned if my baby isn’t walking?
Not every baby will learn to walk at the same time. Some babies will start walking much earlier than others for various reasons. There is no reason to worry if your baby is under 18 months and not walking yet. You may find your baby is fine with their language and social development, but slower with their physical skills. There is usually nothing to worry about. However, if your baby is 18 months old and is still not walking, you should talk to your doctor. You should also mention if your baby tends to favour one side of their body in case there is a weakness in one side.