May 1, 2021

How to recognize and encourage mastery of developmental milestones – from sitting and crawling to walking 

One of the biggest milestones in a baby’s development is walking. Many parents put much weight on achieving this milestone around the age of one. 

However, many babies will take a few steps between ages of 9 and 12 months, while others won’t start using it as their primary mode of movement until 14 or 15 months. By the age of 16 months, babies should have at least taken their first step, and if not, this is an acceptable age to seek out early intervention from physical or occupational therapy.  

Advocacy for your baby is important. Often parents do not realize they can seek out intervention on their own. Also, most outpatient practices will assist in obtaining a needed prescription for therapy from the pediatrician.  

One Step At A Time

It is important for parents to be aware of their baby’s developmental progression for walking. Before your baby can walk, you must ensure that they have mastered their sitting and crawling skills first.  

Is My Baby Ready To Work On Sitting?  

They are, if they can: 

  • Grab their feet while lying down 
  • Roll back to belly and belly to back 
  • Tolerate tummy time for 15 minutes with good head control and ability to push up on hands 

Sitting Milestones 

  • 5–6 months: Should be able to prop sit (sitting with hands in front on the ground). 
  • 6–7 months: Should be able to ring sit (legs in front forming a ring) They should be fairly independent sitting at this age so their hands can play freely with toys.  
  • 7–8 months: Should be able to reach for toys by shifting their weight and lifting the opposite leg off of the ground. 
  • 8–10 months: Side sitting should be mastered, where both knees are facing the same direction. This position is instrumental in your baby learning how to transition from sitting to crawling.  

If your baby is not yet meeting sitting milestones: 

  • Don’t use container seats that limit movement 
  • Encourage your baby to engage in more rolling, tummy time and floor play 
  • Place pillows behind and around them to protect them from falls  

Crawling Skills 

An important skill that your baby must achieve before crawling is pushing up on their hands while on their tummy, typically achieved around 4–5 months. By 6 months, they should start to move around during tummy time.   

Is My Baby Ready To Crawl? 

They are, if they start to:  

  • Pivot, crawl or push backwards 
  • Rock back and forth on all fours 
  • Transition from side sit to all fours  
  • Commando crawl (on tummy) 

Strategies To Improve Crawling 

If your baby demonstrates they are ready to crawl, but has not yet mastered this milestone: 

  • Place their feet close to a wall or surface to push off and move forward 
  • Scatter toys just out of reach to encourage pivoting and movement 
  • Hold their position when on all fours, you can use a pillow under their tummy for support  

Walking independently is definitely a major developmental milestone. But keep in mind it is more important that your baby learns to sit and crawl, and demonstrate a good progression of mastery of these skills, before they are ready to walk.  

Kimberly Bradley, MS, LOTR, is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist and owner of Kim4Kids. 

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