When do babies start walking and when should you buy shoes?

Science and Health

Many parents ask themselves when their baby’s first step will be and are ready to record everything in an exciting video that will become a sweet memory. 

The answer is very general, and the accepted range is between one year to 18 months, but some babies will walk earlier, some later. Even if it seems that your baby has already mastered crawling, standing and moving along while holding on to furniture for quite some time, walking is a developmental milestone that requires readiness, strength, balance and stability, as well as confidence, and this stage can take time.

If your baby is past 18 months and you don’t see walking on the horizon, talk to your pediatrician. They might refer you to a developmental specialist or a physical therapist who will evaluate the baby and give tips on how to encourage walking.

In any case, stay calm if there’s no acute problem. Babies who are on a normal developmental track don’t crawl forever; they will walk.

The development of walking

Before babies start walking, they stand. 

What age should your child be when they start walking? (illustrative) (credit: PEXELS)

First, they lean on a piece of furniture or on you, and after gaining the confidence they stand on their own. Some babies skip the independent standing and go straight to the first steps, which look quite amusing. 

The steps go wide to each side, there is the unstable placing of the foot on the floor which sometimes ends in a fall, they stretch out their arms to the sides and unsteadily shift their weight from foot to foot. 

With normal development, babies look like they’re rocking when they first walk. Over time, as they learn to be comfortable walking, it will continue to improve, and become faster and more stable. 

Around age two, walking is established and hand movements are added, i.e.the right hand is raised at the same time as the left leg and vice versa.

When should you buy their first shoes?

Basically, as late as possible. Walking barefoot is healthiest for the feet of babies who have just started walking, and bare feet help the baby feel grounded, get stronger and stabilize in the best possible way. 

Walking barefoot also means no socks, so it’s better to heat your home on cold days and let the baby walk around barefoot indoors and outside. 

If you think their feet are cold, put anti-slip socks on them. In general, put off buying shoes as long as possible.

When you decide that it’s time for your child’s first shoes, either because of the weather or because of dangers walking outside such as hot pavement, mud, glass, etc., make sure to buy only according to these guidelines:

  • Check that the sole of the shoe is flexible and thin. Try to bend the shoe to the sides and feel that there’s no resistance. 
  • Buy shoes without heels, with flat insoles and non-slip soles. 
  • Make sure the shoes aren’t too heavy so that the baby’s unstable steps won’t encounter resistance. 
  • Check that the shoes aren’t too small or too big. If you buy in an actual store, take the baby to be measured. If you order online, accurately measure foot length and take into account that you might need to exchange the shoes if the size is wrong.

It’s important to emphasize that there are a variety of shoes marketed as pre-walking or first-step shoes. Most meet all these parameters, but even shoes not branded this way can be fine. 

Don’t shy away from buying shoes that aren’t branded as first step shoes, or buying less expensive shoes that aren’t specially marketed as first steps. Use your judgment.

Despite the enthusiasm for buying tiny cute shoes, sometimes from brands that make shoes for adults and toddlers, only buy one good pair at the beginning. The foot length of babies is expected to grow every two months by a half size on average and then you’ll have to buy a new pair anyway.

This article was written in partnership with the JAMA parenting app.