As you prepare for your child's first birthday, it's only natural to wonder about other milestones. If she isn't already walking, you may worry that she's falling behind schedule. You may have heard about nieces, cousins, or neighbor kids who toddled their way through their first birthday party. But don't be concerned if your little one is still content to crawl and scoot. Only about half of all babies can walk by this age, and some perfectly healthy babies wait until they're 15 or 16 months old.
Three things to watch
There are three factors that affect the timing of a baby's first steps: strength, balance, and temperament.
Beyond these physical factors, your baby's personality plays a key role in the process of learning to walk. A very active, impulsive, fearless, or confident baby often starts walking early, while a more laid-back or cautious child will wait until she has thoroughly mastered crawling, cruising, and standing before even attempting her first steps. And despite what you may have heard, carrying her a lot will not slow her down on the path to walking.
Even though your baby may be perfectly happy to crawl, you may feel a bit left out if she's the last baby in her play group to walk. Take heart. Babies who take their time learning to walk tend to do it well right away -- which means fewer falls -- and can better understand warnings. Enjoy this phase. Before you know it, she'll be toddling all around the grocery store whether you want her to or not!
If your baby is already cruising with confidence, her first steps definitely aren't far away. You can help her make the next big breakthrough by holding her hands and walking with her, gradually giving her less support as her confidence grows. Try letting go with one hand and then the other. (If your baby doesn't take steps when you stand her up, wait and try again later.) As she takes her first steps alone, crouch down a few feet away and entice her into your arms. Convey your enthusiasm by clapping, cheering, and hugging.
Make sure you're not hindering your baby's first steps with heavy, hard-soled shoes. The ideal footwear for learning how to walk is nothing at all. Once your baby is walking, she's ready for her first pair of shoes. Pick a pair with soft soles that bend easily at the ball of the foot.
Your baby may also be turning into an accomplished climber. This skill can be fun for her, but nerve-wracking for you. She'll head straight for the stairs if she has a chance, and she may even be able to climb out of her crib or playpen. At that point, it's probably time to buy her a kid's bed and get rid of the playpen. You can still use safety gates to keep her in desired rooms, but the days of close confinement are over.
Her hands and fingers are becoming much more nimble, expanding her opportunities for fun as well as mischief. She might be able to take lids off of jars, so an unauthorized visit to the refrigerator could turn into a big mess. She can multitask by doing different things with each hand. She's also getting better at using a spoon -- and good thing, too, because she might start insisting on feeding herself.
If you have been following the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to breastfeed for at least one year, you may be thinking about weaning. If, however, you and your baby are still enjoying the breastfeeding relationship, the AAP recommends continuing for as long as you and your child desire.
If you choose to wean around this time, try the "don't offer, don't refuse" tactic. In this method, you nurse your baby if she asks, but try to keep her distracted and busy so she asks less frequently. Even if she can go an entire day without nursing, she may still want some "mommy time" right before bed. If she starts throwing more tantrums, she may be telling you that she's not ready for weaning or that the process is going too fast. If this happens, slow down or stop the weaning process for a few days and try again when she seems more comfortable.
Your baby has made amazing progress in her first year, and she's just getting started. While you're taking down the birthday decorations, she'll be moving on to a new skill. Get ready to be amazed all over again.
Sears, William and Martha. The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby From Birth to Age Two. 2003. Little, Brown and Company.
American Academy of Pediatrics. Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age Five. 2009. Bantam Books.
University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Baby Bouncer. 12th month: happy birthday! September 2000. http://www.fcs.uga.edu/ext/pubs/chfd/CHFD-E-39-12.pdf
University of Wisconsin Extension. Parenting the first year: month 12. 2006. http://learningstore.uwex.edu/Assets/pdfs/B3790-12.PDF