The average age for a baby to take their first steps is between 9 and 12 months. My son’s first steps were at 18 months, and it wasn’t until he was almost 2 before he really had the hang of it. His friends were literally able to run circle around him, while he sat (contently I will say) and played quietly. It took months of physical therapy, through Indiana First Steps, and all the mom guilt in the world, to get to where he needed to be.
The first question I was always asked by the evaluators, family, friends, strangers (who always love to have an opinion) is “oh did you not do tummy time?” It came with the head tilt to the side and the look like you should have known better. Now whether or not that’s what they meant, or if they truly just wanted to know, the guilt came on strong. I was a new mom, confused by everything, exhausted, reading the world of dos and don’ts and trying to survive with a baby who wouldn’t sleep unless held, cluster fed for multiple hours every day, and cried for three hours every evening.
So, did I put my tiny peanut of a baby on his stomach and let him scream and cry and turn red for even 10 extra minutes a day?
No. We tried. We did a few minutes here and there when I thought my sanity could handle it but mostly I just loved and cuddled that baby the way I knew he needed it. Did I do this to my child? Did I cause him a physical delay because I couldn’t endure the frustration that tummy time caused him? It’s a stress I battle with constantly and know it will never cease.
I arrive early to pick my son up from daycare and his class is playing a game. They are sitting in a circle around a hoola hoop. The teacher pulls a number and they take turns running to the middle of the hoola hoop and jumping up and down while counting. The kids are all laughing and fighting for who goes next, just for a chance to jump. The game is almost done and the teacher asks if anyone else wants to go. My son looks up at me so I ask him if he wants to try. He just sits while all his classmates wait. His teacher looks at me and gently says, “he doesn’t really like to go, he just likes to watch.” My heart drops. I’m not sure if she’s just being nice or knows what I know.
He won’t join the game, because he can’t jump like the other kids.
His jumping is subpar at best. He will jump at home but even he realizes it’s not as high or as fast as his friends and his chances of falling down are pretty high. Did we quit therapy too early? Should I have done more or pushed harder? How else can I get him to jump at home? Would 10 minutes of tummy time a day as a newborn prevented this?
The physical therapist told us that all the focus on our physical “catch up” would potentially slow down other areas. That’s just how it works. Evaluators and others who checked in said the same thing, he will be slow to talk and that’s ok. We keep hearing that girls learn to talk well before boys, even our pediatrician says not to worry, but my son is still at the 2-3 word stage when friends his same age use full sentences to ask for milk or play outside. As long as he is progressing, there is no reason to worry.
But what if he doesn’t catch up? When are we concerned his progress is too slow? Again, did 10 minutes of tummy time a day as an infant essentially cause this? As I lay on the couch worrying (thank you all day, “morning” sickness) he walks in and says clear as day, “mommy doesn’t feel good?” And just like that we’re using 4-5 word sentences all over the place. The worry dissipates, but I know it will come back.
Working with Indiana First Steps
Indiana First Steps is an amazing program. It’s overwhelming and lengthy and feels frustrating at times but we heard so many success stores from friends and coworkers. It’s just hard to believe those stories of success when you’re in it yourself. They always say every kid is different but still you worry, what if my kid is the one this doesn’t work for? Then what? But they are there for you. They let you read about the physical therapists you may be working with. They let you choose to work with your child at home or at daycare, they even help financially.
After the first session I cried, and I mean hard. We’d just spent an hour doing what I felt like was nothing, other than upsetting my son. He hated all the exercises, he just wanted to hug us, and he screamed almost the entire time. What a waste I thought, we will never get anywhere. The worst part was, I wanted to focus on walking, but the physical therapist explained we needed him to work those muscles up to that, which meant going back to tummy time, pushing up, sitting up better, and moving from laying to sitting on his own. Baby steps, but it felt like light years to get from there to waking.
Slowly, painfully, it got better.
He got excited when he progressed and could move around like his friends. He never really learned to like the physical therapist which I’m sure was hard for her, but man she knew what she was doing and she’d get him to advance without even realizing he’d stood or stepped or made the next transition. I hope we were able to show how much she was appreciated.
My son was 18 months old before he ever took his first steps. It was a long road to get there filled with frustration, tears, and lots of celebrating small things, but we did it. And there were lots of people there to support him along the way. What a blessing it is to have programs and people who care about your child’s success the way they do. If you’re worried about your child or your pediatrician recommends an evaluation know that you aren’t alone. The celebration is worth it and the look of accomplishment your little one gets will melt your heart.