Baby Development: Walking
“Baby Walk” sounds like it could be a dance. For the infant it must feel like one since it is a new coordination demanding more skill than the rolling and crawling that has dominated his movement experience until now. Balance, strength, and coordination work together as the infant travels fearlessly on the narrow base of support in the vertical plane. When dancing, there is a thrill in moving oneself through space in a more skillful manner. The undeniable bliss baby feels when moving in this new way is evident in his voice and on his face! Parents long to see their baby walking as this is the pinnacle achievement of infancy!
COORDINATION OF LOCOMOTION
Learning the coordination of walking echoes back to the early developmental phases of kicking, belly crawling, and hands-and-knees crawling. Motor patterns are controlled in the brain and the coordination of walking is an alternating pattern of right-left-right-left. This is called differentiation of the legs, where they are used separately rather than as one leg. When the baby begins kicking his legs, eventually he feels the efficiency of the right-left-right-left pattern. Soon he belly crawls by alternating the leg and foot that pushes against the ground. Again we see this pattern in hands-and-knees crawling. Even in side cruising we see the right-left-right-left coordination.
It is important to remember that there are activities that interfere with the development of this coordination. Many parents put their tiny infant in a standing position on their lap as early as two months, and sometimes bounce them up and down. Unfortunately, this is teaching baby to use both legs at the same time instead of the alternating pattern that is useful to him in his skills of locomotion. (Locomotion means traveling around in space.) I strongly recommend that parents avoid this activity and substitute one that guides the ideal patterns of development! Research in the field of brain science confirms that we use our body in the patterns that we have taught our brain through movement. For the infant who is put in this standing position and bounced up and down, he is learning to use his two legs as one leg, like the tail of a mermaid! We would call this an undifferentiated use of the legs. I have seen babies on their stomachs lift both legs up behind them and bend their knees in exactly the same pattern as bouncing – this is what their brain has learned! However, it does not help them learn to move around on the floor, and they feel extremely frustrated! Babies love to learn how to move around on their own. Instead of standing baby, I encourage parents to give him time on the floor for kicking, rolling, and crawling which support the alternating coordination of walking.