Why do babies walk on tiptoes?

A baby's legs, walking on tiptoes

For babies, the world is full of firsts. From day one, we watch eagerly so they don’t miss a thing—and there’s no milestone more exciting than a baby’s first steps. But whether your baby has just learned to walk or is well on their way to running around with other children, you might have noticed that they’re walking on their tiptoes instead of on their whole foot.

But why do they do this?

1. They’re learning

One explanation is that they just haven’t learned to walk properly yet. Walking is a surprisingly complicated process involving lots of different bones and muscles, so it’s no wonder it takes a while for babies to figure it out. Remember, it wasn’t very long ago that they couldn’t even sit up, and it won’t be too long before they’re racing about like cheetahs.

It may feel like it’s taking an age, but the chances are your baby is progressing just fine. When they learn how to walk, they have to learn how to make their muscles move in a totally new way and develop the leg strength they need to support themselves. All of this takes time, so if your baby is tiptoeing, it could just mean they need a little longer to perfect their technique.

If you’re concerned about your child’s motor development, it’s best to talk to a doctor who can advise and reassure you. Meanwhile, make sure your baby’s feet are being looked after - even if it doesn’t stop the toe-walking, it will keep your child healthy and happy in the long run.

2. Growth spurts

At the same time as learning to walk, your child is growing rapidly, and that might cause them to walk on their tiptoes. Often, growth spurts can cause muscle strain that may be uncomfortable, so children might walk on their toes to shorten the stretch on their calf muscles and relieve that discomfort.

This isn’t anything to worry about, though. Over time, this muscle strain will decrease until your child doesn’t even notice it—and they’ll soon be walking with their whole foot.

3. Walkers

Walking on tiptoes could be something as innocent as a habit. If your child got started with a walker, it could be that they tiptoed to see over it—and now continue to do so, even without the walker blocking their view.

Whether it’s a conscious habit or not, the best time to try and break it is now. If children continue to toe-walk past the age of five or six, it could lead to health and balance problems later in life. In this case, breaking the habit could involve doing balance exercises like yoga, or if your child is a little older, learning to skate.

4. Incorrect footwear

It’s possible that your baby’s footwear is causing them to walk on tiptoes, and this could be for two reasons. Firstly, if the shoes don’t fit properly, they may find it uncomfortable, or even painful, to walk on their whole foot. The best way to remedy this is to get your child’s feet professionally sized so you can be sure their next pair of walking shoes is just right. Remember, one foot can be bigger than the other!

Secondly, there may be a sensory issue involved. The shoes might not be the wrong size or shape, but their texture can cause discomfort too. Imagine if your shoes had sandpaper insoles. If your child has sensitive feet, some materials might feel coarser than you’d expect. An easy way to tackle this is to ask your child how the shoes feel when they try them on.