Reasons for a Baby Walking Late

By Kay Tang
Andersen Ross/Blend Images/Getty Images

Babies typically start crawling at 9 months and then progress to walking about three months later. If your baby takes as long as 18 to 20 months to walk, it tends to be a reflection of your baby’s personality. Compared to a frenetic baby who can’t wait to rush forward on two feet, a laid-back baby prefers sitting around and making eye contact with people.

Progression Counts

If your baby is walking late, you may need to adjust his real age based on birth circumstances, according to Healthy Children. For example, if your baby is 18 weeks old but was born 4 weeks early, his adjusted age is 14 weeks or 18 minus 4. Use the adjusted number to gauge his development until age 2 at which time every child’s development should align with the normal range of development. Instead of looking at the calendar, watch how your child progresses -- crawling, sitting up, standing, walking. As long as your child’s abilities are evolving, there’s little cause for concern.

Temperament and Personality

When your child begins to put one foot in front of the other largely depends on temperament. If you have an easy-going baby, she may prefer sit on her bottom and tinker with toys. Relaxed babies tend to develop their motor skills more slowly than impulsive and racy babies, according to Dr. William Sears, author of more than 30 books on childcare. Active babies who charge through motor milestones typically rank high on the accident barometer.

A Study of Motor Milestones

In a 2012 study sponsored by the Swiss National Science Foundation and published in Acta Paediatrica, Swiss researchers observed the motor milestones of 103 girls and 119 boys and found wide variations. While children start walking anywhere from 8 1/2 months to 20 months, the average is 12 months. Once the children reached school age, they took intelligence and motor tests every two to three years between ages 7 and 18. Researchers found no link between the walking milestone and intelligence and coordination.

When to Call Your Doctor

If your baby still isn’t walking at 15 to 16 months, call your pediatrician. He’ll check your baby for various problems such as cerebral palsy, hip displacement or lack of muscle tone, according to Parents Magazine. However, even these conditions are rare, says Gay Girolami, the executive director of an Illinois-based treatment center for children with special needs. Another reason to contact your doctor is if you see your baby regressing in the development of his motor skills or is completely immobile.

Don’t Push, Encourage

You don’t want to force your baby to walk so you can enter him in next neighborhood walking-baby race. Gently encourage him to walk by taking his hands and allowing him to stand and test a few steps forward. As he grows comfortable with walking with your assistance, gradually let go of one hand and then the other. Praise his ability to walk with enthusiastic words of support. You can also stand about an arm’s length away from your baby and ask him to walk toward you. Turn it into a game so your baby begins to associate walking with fun.

About the Author

Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.