November 9, 2023

How can You Help Your Preemie Learn to Walk ?

How can You Help Your Preemie Learn to Walk ?

A kid’s first few steps are one of the most awaited early milestones for caregivers. If you're a parent of a premature baby, you might be curious about when these significant strides will occur. While most babies begin walking independently around their first birthday, premature babies may require a bit more time. It's normal to feel concerned if you notice your baby still crawling while their peers are taking their initial tentative steps. However, rest assured that there is no need for excessive worry. This blog aims to address the pressing question of at what age do premature babies start walking, so you can actively contribute to your preemie's walking development with confidence.

When do Premature Babies Start Walking?

There’s quite a wide range of ages at which premature babies start walking. If you’re looking at charts for developmental milestones, the first thing you need to know is your baby’s corrected age. This refers to the age your baby would be if he/ she were born at full term. For example, if your baby was born 2 months prematurely, 9 months after birth, his/ her corrected age would be 7 months. With this in mind, let’s look at the developmental milestones associated with walking.

  • Standing Up with Support

A premature baby at the corrected age of around 9 months should be able to hold himself/ herself up in a standing position while holding onto something or being supported by you. 

  • Walk with Support

By the corrected age of 12 months, a preemie should be able to pull himself/ herself up to a standing position while holding onto something for support. Your child should also be able to take a few steps while being supported by you or holding onto a table, railing, etc., for support.

  • Walk without Support

This is what most people mean when they ask, “When do babies start walking?” Most preemies are able to walk on their own without any support between the corrected ages of 13 and 18 months.

Why do Some Preemies Learn to Walk Later?

Even after making adjustments to your baby’s age, you may find that your baby is meeting milestones later than full-term babies. The earlier your baby was born or, the more complications he/she faced at birth, the greater the delay could be in meeting developmental milestones. Some of the complications that may result in them starting to walk later are:

  • Being born before completing 27 weeks of gestation
  • Weighing less than 750 grams at birth
  • Having weak muscle tone
  • Being diagnosed with chronic lung disease or bronchopulmonary dysplasia
  • Suffering from cerebral palsy
  • Requiring frequent hospitalisation
  • Requiring medical support such as feeding tubes or respiratory support at home

How can You Help?

As a parent, you want to do everything you can to help your baby grow. The age at which every baby walks is different. What you need to do is encourage your baby and make the experience fun for him/ her. Playtime doesn’t just entertain your child, it helps them learn new skills too. So, spend time with him/her and encourage your little one to participate in activities that strengthen muscles and help them walk properly. Some of the things you could do are: 

  • Encourage Floor Time to Build Core Strength

Tummy time is the foundation for many of your baby’s developmental milestones. It helps strengthen the muscles of your baby’s neck and upper body. It also helps your baby become more aware of his/her body and prepares them for pushing themselves up in a sitting, crawling and standing position. 

Hence, help your baby get mobile by encouraging tummy time on the floor. Make sure your baby is being watched closely by an adult. As your baby starts crawling, put brightly coloured objects just a little out of their reach as incentives. You can also use motorised toys such as battery-operated soft toys and dolls that move on the floor and motivate your child to follow them.

  • Discourage the Use of Walkers

Walkers are marketed as toys that help your child walk, but many paediatricians advise against this for premature babies still learning how to walk. If your baby is not walking, it means he/she isn’t ready to as yet. Pushing them to use a walker could result in injuries. Instead, let them walk with the support of a stationary object or while holding on to you. 

  • Give Your Child Push Toys

Push toys are a great way to help your preemie learn to walk. Babies thrive on independence. They like doing things on their own. 

When your baby can stand on his/ her feet, let them take the support of a pushable object such as a laundry basket or a stool or a push toy to move forward. Make sure the support you give your baby is sturdy enough to prevent falls.

  • Practice Standing Activities to Build Muscle Strength

One of the reasons why premature infants learn to walk slower is because they are hypersensitive to touch. Their feet are sensitive to touch, and they start resisting weight-bearing activities.  To combat this, include activities that give your baby opportunities to bear their own weight. 

Hold and support your baby’s arm in a position that allows them to push upwards with their feet into a standing position. From here, you can help your baby progress to standing up while holding onto furniture or anything else for support. You could also put toys on the floor in front of your child to encourage bending over and standing back up. This helps your baby strengthen his/her leg muscles and gain the steadiness and confidence to start walking. 

  • Place Toys Strategically as Incentives to Cruise

In baby language, cruising refers to walking along an object while leaning on it for support. For example, your child might walk along a sofa while using it to support his/ her weight. Cruising helps infants gain confidence in their ability to walk. 

Once your baby can stand while holding on to a bench or a sofa, encourage them to move by placing toys ahead of them. These act as incentives to walk without losing the support they need to maintain balance. Alternatively, you could stand at the other end of the sofa and call your baby to come towards you. 

  • Cruise and Kick

Along with gaining the ability to maintain balance and hold his/her weight, your child must also learn to move his/her feet ahead to walk. This can be learned by encouraging a kicking motion. 

Once your child is cruising along on his own, place a soft ball next to his feet. At first, he/she may kick the ball accidentally. Cheer the action and return the ball to your child’s foot. This will encourage him/her to kick the ball again. Place the ball in front of both feet so he/she can practice the kicking motion with both legs. 

  • Assisted Walking

Sometimes, all that is required is a little extra support. If your baby can stand up and cruise but is unable to let go of your sofa, try some assisted walking exercises.

Stand behind your baby with your hands under his/her arms. Let your baby come up into a standing position, and then gently move one arm forward. Your baby should respond by moving one foot ahead. Follow this by moving the other arm forward. This will help your baby practice the hip rotation and leg movement required to walk. 

When to be Concerned?

Don’t worry too much if your baby is still crawling while other babies his/her age are walking. Every baby grows at his/her own pace and should not be pushed too hard. Be patient with your baby. That said, if your baby has crossed the expected time frame and is still no closer to walking, speak to your paediatrician. Some of the checkpoints at which you may need to speak to a paediatrician are:

  • If your baby is unable to support his/her own weight while standing on his/her feet by the corrected age of 9 months.
  • If your baby is able to stand but stands on tip-toes without being able to bring the heels down by the corrected age of 9 months. 
  • If your baby is unable to crawl around the room by the corrected age of 12 months.
  • If your baby cannot walk by the corrected age of 18 months.
  • If your baby is walking only on tip-toes at the corrected age of 18 months.

Summing It Up

If natural for every parent to wonder why their baby isn’t walking when other infants their age are taking their first steps. Your baby has his own timetable. If your baby doesn’t seem ready to walk, don’t push them to do so. Instead, design play activities that help him gain confidence in bearing his own weight and make walking seem like a fun activity. 

This is one of many milestones your baby will cross as he/she grows. At every stage, you need to play the role of a supportive parent with age-appropriate stimulating activities. The good news is that you don’t have to do this on your own. You can rely on the experience and expertise of the Raising Superstars programs. Explore the Prodigy Programmes and see how the activities and guidance can help your little one reach developmental milestones. 

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