Why isn’t my child walking yet?

Many parents spend the first year of their child’s life focusing on motor milestones. We feel huge relief when our babies start to sit, crawl and walk. The variety of baby and toddler activities lead to many opportunities for comparison of our children in relation to others. This often leads to us asking ourselves, “Why isn’t my child walking yet?”

“There are a few reasons why a child may not be walking by 1 year.” So says Paediatric Physiotherapist and Clamber Club Expert, Nicole Hilburn. “The first thing to consider is when the baby started to sit and crawl. Late sitters and crawlers will most likely walk late as well.”

From the start of sitting, a baby usually takes 3 to 4 months to start crawling. You can add another 3 months or so from crawling to walking. Babies with significant birth histories are more likely to be delayed. Things such as low birth weight, prematurity, hospital admissions or prolonged bouts of illness. These can cause decreased muscle strength or imbalances between muscle groups.

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What factors prevent your child from walking?

An increasing number of babies are presenting with a condition called torticollis. This is where one of the muscles in the neck is tight due to position in utero. It can also be due to positioning postnatally in premature infants, who have been in the intensive care unit for a while. Untreated, this condition leads to decreased use and stiffness of the arm and leg on the same side as the tight muscle in the neck. Which may interfere with development.

Potential signs of the condition
  •   your baby holding their head slightly to one side
  • your baby prefers looking to one side
  • your baby cannot look all the way to one side

Babies who use alternative methods of crawling such as bottom shuffling may be delayed in walkng. They may not develop the core stability and pelvic girdle stability to support them in standing and walking. These babies may also struggle to pull up to stand from the floor, due to being on their bottoms and struggling with kneeling.

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Baby’s bum shuffle is most often due to resistance to tummy time. This leads to weak back muscles and arms, and the baby never really experimenting with pushing up off the ground.

Excessive use of equipment such as seating devices, and walking rings may lead to walking delays. This is because the child is fully supported in these devices and not using muscles or engaging postural control in them.

A baby’s temperament also contributes to how quickly he or she will start moving. A very easy-going baby may take longer than a very busy baby. A baby with sensory issues, or who is happy being stable will also take longer to walk. Gaining balance on two legs is much more difficult than being stable on all fours, and these babies may find this frightening.

How can you ensure that your baby is on track to walking?
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  • Encourage lots of floor play between the ages of 1 and 6 months… On the back and the tummy. This will strengthen the trunk muscles.
  • If a baby looks like they are not going to crawl or is using an alternative method to move such as rolling or bottom shuffling… You should take baby to a physiotherapist. Building up appropriate muscle strength in the trunk, shoulder girdle and pelvic girdle is important.
  • Torticollis should be treated by a physiotherapist.
Once a baby is pulling up to stand and cruising, the following tips can be used to promote walking
  • Use a wooden wagon to push around
  • Play in the standing position at flat surfaces such as a fridge (e.g. playing with magnets)
  • Encourage play while standing. Give your baby something in each hand, which will encourage standing without holding on.
  • Walk with your baby while holding his hands
  • You can also use a hula-hoop if baby tends to pull down on your hands a lot. You hold one side and walk backwards and your baby holds the other side. This will give less support and encourage them to engage their muscles more.

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*You can find more excellent articles from Clamber Club here.

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