At what age should my baby start to walk? A guide to the magical milestones, from birth to age 3

(PeopleImages/Getty Images)
(PeopleImages/Getty Images)

Of course, each mom eagerly waits as her baby stumbles from one milestone to the next. You watch other babies and children and subconsciously compare your child to them.

But each child is an individual who will meet his milestones in his own sweet time. Yes, checking to see whether your baby is meeting his milestones is vital to assess your baby's development.

A host of experts, such as paediatricians, occupational, physical and speech therapists, and clinical psychologists, have spent years setting up the stages and ages at which each child should develop new skills.

Six weeks

Gross motor skills

By six weeks, your baby should have a firm neck, and his head shouldn't lag when you pull him up to sitting from lying on his back. If his head is still floppy, get help.

Emotional skills

This is a magical time because by now your baby should be smiling when he sees you.

Three months

Fine motor skills

By three months, your baby should be bringing his hands together to the centre of his body (finding his mouth and chewing on a toy).

Check for asymmetry, which means one hand stays to the side. This could be caused by hemiplegia or paralysis on one side of the body.

This symmetry should continue right up until the toddler years, and it's very important for crawling. If your baby is not bringing his hands together, get an assessment from a physio or occupational therapist.

Read more:

Four to Six Months

Gross motor skills

The fun begins and nappy changing becomes a game, because now your baby starts rolling, initially from tummy on to his back. He should be as delighted to roll from left to right as he is from right to left.

By five months he starts to strengthen his legs and delights in you holding him up.

Emotional skills

Another magical time – he will be responding to your kisses and hugs, with his kisses and hugs. And we know that nothing beats a kiss from your baby.

Six months

Gross motor skills

Now we are preparing to be mobile, and the "suitcase period", when he is easily carried around, is coming to an end. It starts with him building his muscles; he should be able to push himself up on straight arms from lying on his tummy.

And as he is perfecting his rolling methods, changing his nappy is becoming difficult. He is now learning to sit. Put him in position, and he will sit happily, with his legs spread wide, leaning on his hands.

By six months, he should be sitting by himself, or at least trying very hard to do so. If he falls, it should be to the sides and not to the back or front. Encourage tummy time as it builds muscle. By six months, your child should be tolerating it well.

By now, your baby can stand, holding onto your hands. But beware, this doesn't mean he must stand all the time. Many parents start using walking rings now, as they feel frustrated on their baby's behalf because he can't move yet.

Generally, therapists discourage walking rings, saying there are no positives to them at all, other than parental convenience.

Fine motor skills

Prepare for some noise

Your baby will pass a toy from hand to hand and bang two toys together. He can grasp, but can't purposefully release an object. He simply casts an object aside when something else catches his eye, which often happens as he is so curious.

Everything is a toy. Lying on his back, his feet become great playthings. Supple as babies are, he will even stick his toes in his mouth.

Speech skills

It's not only the toy banging that raises the volume. By seven months, your baby should be making a whole lot of verbal noise. Prepare to listen to long strings of consonants and vowels repeated endlessly, for example, "Dadadadada".

Eight months

Gross motor skills

He's moving more and more each day. Around eight months, he'll be turning circles on his tummy and happily sitting unsupported. And if you leave him lying down when he wants a different view of the world, he'll simply push himself up to sit – all by himself.

Fine motor skills

Between eight and nine months, he should be clapping his hands and waving at you.

Nine months

Gross motor skills

Now is the time he wants to move. Put him on his tummy, and he should push up onto his hands and knees. Safety-proof your house because he is about to start crawling. This is not an age-related milestone, and babies can start anytime between seven and 10 months.

It's a concern if your baby isn't crawling by 12 months. More important than the age at which he crawls, is that he does crawl, and that crawling precedes walking. Crawling helps you learn left and right and how to use the different sides of your body together.

Within two weeks of starting to crawl, expect him to be pulling himself up on things and cruising, or grabbing hold of furniture to stagger around the room. Soon he will be walking, and your life will never be the same.

It begins with him standing, holding your one hand. Holding both your hands, he can take a few steps. Those quiet newborn days are over – your baby no longer sits still, but is in constant motion. There is a call for a visit to a therapist if he simply sits.

Fine motor skills

He can let go whatever he is holding on purpose, and he starts to realise that his fingers work separately. He points a finger, and he starts using a pincer grip. Now he can play "posting" games, putting toys into a slot.

Emotional skills

Separation anxiety can rear its ugly head. This can last for another nine months, but there is relief in sight. By 18 months, this should quieten down as he becomes more secure as an individual in his environment. Your baby begins to realise that you exist even if he can't see you.

It's a positive sign – it shows his memory is working, and that he still needs his mom. On the flip side, he develops a fear of strangers and becomes clingy, which is tough for you because you also need some downtime. Some babies don't have a clingy stage.

It depends on your baby's personality or whether he was premature.

Twelve months

Gross motor skills

We've had the first birthday, with the pictures and presents (which is more for mom). Your baby's present to himself is mobility. On average, babies begin to walk anytime between nine and 16 months.

Fine motor skills

It's also time to play. Introduce form board puzzles of four to six pieces and ordinary puzzles of four pieces. Form board puzzles are those in which the pieces fit into specific spaces on a board. He should be able to post a circle shape into a circle-shaped slot on his shape-sorter.

Also read:

Speech skills

And the volume goes up again. Between 12 and 18 months, he will use his first words. There is no specific word he will say first, but it's often a familiar object or person in his environment.

Many moms are disappointed that their baby says "dada" before he says "mama". Don't worry, this is normal.

Babies understand more words than they can use, but they get to a stage where they love copying speech. They will copy any words you use, so watch your language.

Many a parent has been embarrassed by a well-placed swear word from their angelic tot. But this is an important learning stage for them, and you should encourage them to copy you.

18 months

Gross motor skills

Give him a scooter or ride-on, moving onto a tricycle by age four and later a bicycle, as these will encourage pedalling and steering skills.

If your baby is not walking by 18 months, take him for an assessment.

Fine motor skills

Until 18 months, your baby has a cylindrical grip – he holds things in his fist.

He can also post three shapes into their slots on his shape-sorter. Usually, these are a circle, a square and a triangle.

Emotional skills

Up until 18 months, he won't recognise other babies as his peers. But now he will start to realise that the funny chap in the mirror is himself.

There is a big cognitive shift at this age as he begins to understand that he is a separate person from his mom. And if that's not enough, it's also the beginning of the "Terrible 2s". Expect tantrums as he challenges you on everything.

Speech skills

By 18 months, expect your baby to chat to you using a few meaningful words; he will have a vocabulary of three to 20 words, mostly nouns. He could also use a variety of sounds that sound like words or sentences.

He is very verbal now – between 18 and 24 months he begins joining nouns and verbs, and his expressive vocabulary will reach 50 to 100 words.

He can accurately name a few familiar objects and can understand up to 300 words, although you can only understand about half of what he is saying to you.

Age 2

Gross motor skills

Don't worry if your little one has no arches, because until age two babies have flat feet. Calf muscles are used to form the arches, which begins around now. He will start walking on tiptoes and jumping with two feet together. Up until now, jumping is generally with one foot first.

Fine motor skills

Around two years, his fingers are a bit more refined, and he can hold his crayon in a tripod grasp or using thumb, index and middle finger.

It's time to introduce threading games, getting him to thread objects onto a chubby threader. He will enjoy board puzzles of 10 pieces and ordinary puzzles of six to eight pieces.

He should also know his primary colours – red, yellow and blue.

Speech skills

It's time for sentences, albeit ones consisting of only two words. But if there is no clear pronunciation of at least one word by now, you may need to take him to a speech therapist.

Age 3

Gross motor skills

Your baby is no longer just walking around, but is doing tricks too; head-over-heels somersaults on the ground are fun, as is standing on one leg at a time. Your toddler should also be starting to hop on one leg.

Fine motor skills

Threading becomes easier as his fine motor skills improve; move from a chubby threader to a shoelace. Your 3-year-old should be posting eight to 10 shapes on his shape-sorter.

But there is more: he should be able to name the shapes and should know his secondary colours.

Emotional skills

Don't despair if your child seems a bit of a loner and you're the life of the party. Until children are three, they parallel play, which means they will sit with each other and play, but not interact. It's expected.

Speech skills

Talking is gathering pace rapidly. By age 3, expect whole conversations with your toddler as he strings together sentences of three to five words and asks simple questions of one to two words using "what", "who" and "where".

He has an expressive vocabulary of 100 to 200 words, understands 500 to 900 words, and you can understand more than three-quarters of what he says.


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