Nothing, except perhaps the twin inquiry, “When should my baby begin to talk?” gives the young parents so much concern.
If the Jones baby across the street, who was born a week later, has succeeded in taking a few steps unassisted and alone, while theirs is still ignominiously crawling on all fours, the humiliation is almost more than can be borne.
But really, it makes very little difference. In the absence, of course, of any actual disease of the bones, muscles or nervous system. A few weeks or months’ difference, more or less, is no sign of either advanced or retarded development.
The act of walking alone itself is preceded, prepared for, by a long series of other acts by which the muscles are gradually strengthened and taught control. Thus voluntary, purposeful movements, such as grasping an object held out to the baby, begin about the fourth month. At about the same period the head is held erect when the trunk is supported. The baby is usually able to sit up about the eighth month.
Standing with support, but perfectly erect, is learned at the end of the first year. Soon after the youngster begins to take some steps with support. And at the fifteenth month, in the average case, true walking independently of any help is seen. Even so, only a few steps can be taken at a time at first. And the time when independent walking begins may be as late as the seventeenth month of life.
If it is delayed beyond that time the first thing to think about is rickets. Sometimes mental deficiency, or involvement of the central nervous system causing paralysis, is present. But these should be evident before the time of walking begins. Rickets is suggested by a protuberant abdomen, a row of enlargements along the ribs just along the outside the breast bone (the rickety rosary), a square-shaped head with prominent forehead, and a marked disindination to stand even when supported.
Contrivances for teaching or helping infants to walk are unnecessary. The baby should not be restrained from walking if it wants to, or urged to walk if it doesn’t.