Generally, babies begin walking around their first birthday, but this can vary. They usually follow the stages of creeping, crawling, stepping, pulling up, and cruising before being able to walk.

Some infants crawl or cruise before they walk, while others never do either. Others walk very early in the second half of their first year, while some take much longer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list walking as a developmental milestone for 18 months. The agency also lists taking a few steps as a milestone for 15 months.

Researchers have not found a correlation between early walking and other developmental outcomes or skills. Therefore, reaching these milestones later does not necessarily mean an infant will have developmental concerns. However, there may be an initial increase in the number of words a baby can use around the time they begin walking.

Read more to learn about the typical timeline for walking, the stages of learning to walk, tips, and more.

Two young children learning to walk.Share on Pinterest
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On average, children walk between 12 and 18 months. Some may walk a little earlier, while others may walk as early as 7 months.

In an older study from 2013 involving 48,151 children, researchers used data from a Norwegian cohort study and a smaller data source. They found the following:

  • 25% of children walked at 12 months
  • 50% walked at 13 months
  • 75% walked at 14 months

Children who crawled on hands and knees walked an average of 0.9 months earlier than those who shuffled on their bottoms.

Learning to walk is the culmination of months of motor skills development. It requires babies to be able to support their weight, balance unassisted, coordinate movement, control their upper body, and more.

For this reason, many infants develop several skills before learning to walk. These include:

  • Creeping: This is a pre-crawling strategy. Infants may scoot on their bellies, roll around, or otherwise creep forward without getting up onto their hands and knees. Some may develop this technique into an army crawl, moving their arms and legs in a coordinated manner with their belly on the ground.
  • Crawling: Crawling may last for months, a few days, or not at all. The classic crawling position has the infant’s belly off the floor while supporting themselves on their hands and knees, though some adopt a different crawling style.
  • Stepping: As infants gain upper body strength, they may take a few steps while a parent or caregiver supports them. For example, a parent or caregiver might hold the baby’s torso or hands while they step.
  • Pulling up: As they gain upper body strength, infants may begin to pull up on large objects or people. They will use these objects to stand, and they may sometimes take a few steps while supporting their weight.
  • Cruising: Cruising occurs when infants pull up on objects and begin using them to support their weight as they walk. Some can travel quickly using this strategy and move around an entire room while grabbing objects. It is important to ensure that heavy furniture is secure so children do not pull it over onto themselves.
  • Walking: Generally begins after an infant has worked through the prior stages of development. However, some skip various stages on the way to walking.

A child may be ready to walk if they:

  • have excellent head and upper body control
  • can coordinate their movements
  • are able to stand
  • have begun cruising or walking by pulling up on objects
  • take steps when a parent or caregiver helps or supports them
  • seem very interested in practicing walking

A 2021 study found that the best predictor of a child’s skill as a walker is how long it has been since they started walking. However, other factors also improved walking skills.

Less crowded homes enabled more walking practice, supporting developing walkers. This allows infants to practice developing walking in a comfortable environment.

Infants also had stronger walking skills when they had more spontaneous walking and when a smaller percentage of their walking episodes were short.

Parents can help by:

  • encouraging but not forcing walking
  • cheering when a child falls and gets back up
  • providing a safe environment, including a surface that is safe to fall on
  • encouraging children to engage in physical play
  • giving children something interesting to walk or crawl to

According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, going barefoot helps infants and toddlers develop strong, healthy feet. Walking barefoot can encourage children to walk correctly and help their muscles develop correctly.

Importantly, children who do not walk do not need shoes. Once infants or toddlers start walking, they do not need to wear shoes on safe, familiar indoor surfaces. However, they should wear shoes outside or in areas where there may be potential hazards.

Parents or caregivers can introduce shoes by making wearing them into a fun game and ensuring they fit properly.

A shoe store can help parents find the right size. Shoes should not pinch or leave marks. Additionally, people should not force children to wear shoes all day or longer than is necessary for their safety.

A parent or caregiver should contact a doctor if a child:

  • has feet that look atypical or appear to be causing them pain
  • is not meeting their developmental milestones
  • limps, trips frequently, or seems to have more balance and walking difficulties than other children their age
  • develops skills but then loses them

Many parents and caregivers are eager for the walking milestone, while others worry about the safety risks it presents. Offering a safe and engaging environment can help a child master walking and other early development skills.

If a child seems to be having issues learning basic skills, people can reach out to a pediatrician for guidance. It is important to note that infants learn to walk at varying ages.