Ruthie: [delighted cooing]
Diane: Where's the baby? [uncovers her face] Shit! Where's the baby?!
Babies learn to move quite young — far younger than they learn good judgment, or even to talk. This often leads to their wandering off (often because they are Chasing a Butterfly) and into grave danger, such as near a tub of water where they could drown. Whenever a child escapes the parental eye for a moment, expect a vanishing, and a subsequent panic before tracking the kid down. Worse occurs when the supervising character sees the baby just before trouble. A common comedy trouble is that all the problems escape the baby and hit the character pursuing. The Badly Battered Babysitter may get in that condition just trying to follow. For drama, features as an Adult Fear.
A trope for children younger than Free-Range Children, who would be expected to have some judgment, even if they sometimes do stupid things, and Scare Dare, as the child blunders into danger out of sheer ignorance. It tapers off by about five, when the child has enough judgment to get into danger through willfulness rather than ignorance.
- Mao of Chibi Devi does this near the beginning of the anime (in the manga, he was kidnapped).
- This drives the crisis near the end of the Studio Ghibli film My Neighbor Totoro, when 4-year-old Mei gets lost after trying to go alone to visit her mother in the hospital.
- This is how Yusuke Urameshi starts out dead in Yu Yu Hakusho. A five-year-old was playing with his ball by a busy road, Yusuke warns him off, kid doesn't listen and loses his ball in the road, goes after it, and Yusuke dives in front of a car to save him and gets hit.
- Minami's triplet sisters in A Centaur's Life have a reputation as troublemakers that began when they managed to wander twenty kilometers from home within five hours of taking their first steps. Their sister can only wonder "How?!"
- Togepi from Pokémon has done this on more than one occasion.
- Happens in a one-off scene in Mobile Suit Gundam Wing. A baby on a pier nearly falls off as it chases a butterfly while Treize Kushrenada holds back the mother from rescuing it to prove a point about human nature and taking risks: the baby turns back at the last second and begins to walk.
- In a chapter of the Japanese-only Neptunia manga, Neptune had to watch over her sister, Uni, Rom and Ram after they were accidentally transformed into babies. At one point, as Neptune was just finished calming Nepgear down, she notices Uni straying away, distracted by some balloons. She soon catches up with her, but then she notices Rom and Ram end up accidentally straying even further away when the baby carriage they were in ends up rolling down a slope. Poor Neptune had a hard time catching up with them.
- In Harry Potter, Dumbledore leaves a 15 month old Harry on the doorstep overnight with a letter. Harry doesn't get up and walk away in canon. In fanfiction, sometimes he does, and even more often, the fact that he could have is discussed to cast Dumbledore as senile or untrustworthy.
- Of course, Harry was asleep at the time.
- Baby Herman does this inside a kitchen during the Maroon Cartoons short "Somethin's Cookin'" at the beginning of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It's all Roger can do protect him from harm.
- This ends with the worst possible outcome in Tarzan; Kerchak and Kala's child wanders away from its sleeping parents, and is promptly caught and killed by Sabor.
- It's Played for Drama in The Rugrats Movie, where the babies get stranded in the forest. The parents actually noticed that time and were terrified.
- This is almost the entire plot of the movie Baby's Day Out, where a rich baby gets away from three bumbling kidnappers and leads them through all manner of dangers.
- Ghost in the Machine: During the babysitter scenes, an infant girl proceeds to wander off into the kitchen while the virtual killer starts overheating the gas stoves. Luckily, the babysitter catches the little girl in time before anything bad can happen.
- In Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, Miles Vorkosigan learned to walk relatively late, but still young enough that they don't expect any sense. (Given they find him riding a horse when he doesn't know how to ride, probably right.)
- In Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, the assassin is shocked to find that Bod was capable of crawling away while he killed the rest of the family and sets out to hunt for him.
- In The Casual Vacancy, Robbie Weedon wanders off and drowns because his sister, Krystal, is too busy getting Fats Wall to shag her to supervise him properly.
- In Pet Sematary, Louis's son Gage. He doesn't even wander that far before the inevitable happens.
- In Terry Pratchett's The Wee Free Men, Tiffany Aching's brattish little brother Wentworth does this twice, forcing his sister to reflect on how much better life would be if she didn't rescue him. She reflects that if she didn't, her parents would seriously freak out and make her life into a living Hell. Therefore she saves him not only from drowning, but from an eldritch river monster which she duly clobbers with a cast-iron cooking pot. The second time he strays into an abduction by the Queen of the Elves, who while craving a mortal baby to steal, doesn't even have the decency to leave a half-decent changeling...
- In an episode of Malcolm in the Middle when the family are at some convention event, Jamie wanders off, ends up toddling through the convention hall and somehow gets up into the rafters, and falls—just as Malcolm and Dewey, arguing over whether Dewey's shirt is "lucky" as the latter claims, are each tugging at the shirt: and this outstretched shirt is what Jamie falls into, saving him from hitting the floor.
- A Mythbusters episode tested the abilities of men and women to multitask. Part of the test involved making sure an animatronic baby didn't crawl out of a designated area.
- CSI: NY 'Unspoken': Danny and Lindsay are at a political rally with Lucy, who's somewhere between four and five (a time skip and mild Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome make it hard to pinpoint exactly) and she wanders off. Lindsay panics, looks for her, and finds her just in time to be able to dive for cover with her when someone starts shooting.
- All three children born to Darryl and Wanda MacPherson in Baby Blues exhibit this tendency. Firstborn Zoe tended to stray like a hazard-seeking robot. Hamlet tended to roll around the house, going much further and faster than crawling. Third baby Wren has learned to climb; it frightened Wanda horribly to discover tiny Wren atop an eight-foot tall bookcase.
- The second bonus level in Elite Beat Agents involves a baby escaping into a construction site with only a cat being able to protect him.
- One NPC encountered in Metal Slug 2/X is a cute little baby that moves around aimlessly and even tries to perform a handstand, only to topple over before resuming its crawl. Wandering around in a war zone does nothing to deter its natural curiosity, although one wonders where its parents are and how it ended up on a battlefield in the first place.
- If their mother is killed, wounded and hospitalized, or otherwise separated from them, babies in Dwarf Fortress will wander around the fortress without regard to safety. Civilian alerts don't work; babies ignore them, so there's no way to prevent them from crawling out to say hi to the besieging goblin army or whatever else is trying to kill everyone.
- This is the whole premise of "Buttons and Mindy" on Animaniacs. Every segment has Mindy's clueless parents leaving the dog Buttons to watch the toddler, Mindy escaping, Buttons chasing her through ridiculous circumstances, and the parents returning and blaming it all on the dog. One cartoon where she wandered into a construction site lampshaded the popularity of the trope by having cameos of Tom and Jerry and Popeye, chasing their own babies from the cartoons mentioned below.
- Maggie in The Simpsons is prone to this, although she's more capable of taking care of herself than other examples. One Noodle Incident involving her wandering off ends up with her winning a beauty pagent tiara & sceptre. Another time, she somehow manages to drive the family car across town before crashing it into the wall of the local prison, and when a stressed out Marge goes on vacation, Maggie sets out to find her (although she's ultimately satisfied with an anthropomorphic ice cream cone on the roof of an ice cream parlor). And in one of the first episodes she wanders into a cave full of bears, who fall in love with her after she gives one of them a pacifier.
- Arthur: four year old DW has wandered off a few times. Once when they visited the White House the President himself finds her (she says her family is lost, not her). In another episode she wanders away from her mother as Mom is waylayed by a client while out shopping; DW manages to coincidentally get back to her mother just as the conversation finishes.
- The 1958 Tom and Jerry cartoon Tot Watchers has Tom and Jerry work together to save a wandering infant from the hazards of a construction site. The teenage babysitter is too busy nattering on the phone to notice anything amiss.
- The 1989 Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers episode Bearing Up Baby has an infant wander away from its parents' campsite into the woods, where it encounters a bear and a puma, among other hazards.
- In the Popeye cartoon "Child Sockology" baby Swee'Pea wanders around a construction site and Popeye & Bluto try to save him.
- Yet another has Popeye taking Sweet Pea to the zoo and Swee' Pea picking the cages of the most dangerous animals to enter.
- In "Lost and Foundry", Popeye and Olive try to save Swee' Pea after he wanders into a steel mill, only to end up needing saving by Swee' Pea when he manages to get his hands on Popeye's can of spinach.
- Virtually 99% of the Rugrats episodes involve the babies busting out of their playpen or wandering off from the current adults to have an adventure. This is particularly bad in Season 1, when the adults are almost always oblivious to this ever happening.
- In the Looney Tunes short "Goo Goo Goliath", the stork delivers a baby intended for "Mr. and Mrs. Giant" at the top of the beanstalk. But the stork was drunk, so he just drops it off at a promising-looking suburban home. The baby grows to a height of 42 feet while still just an infant. And one day, when the parents accidentally leave a backyard gate open, the giant baby wanders off.
- One episode of Little Dracula had the hero's toddler sister climb out the chimney and wander into the attic. The kids soon end up there too, along with Garlic and his thugs who invade to try and kidnap Dracula's son.
- Mai's little brother in Avatar: The Last Airbender is prone to wandering off.
- In My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, Pinkie Pie faces a babysitter's worst nightmare when she tucks the foals Pound and Pumpkin Cake in their crib for a nap, looks away for second, and discovers they are missing. Turns out both foals are manifesting their powers: Pound can fly and Wall Crawl with his wings, and Pumpkin can apparently phase through objects.
- Mega Babies has plenty of this, sometimes with disastrous results.
- Chumley, Lady Walrus' infant son from Sonic Boom, often wanders off from his mother and ends up in a dangerous situation requiring Sonic and his friends to save him.
Lady Walrus: My baby!
- In the BoJack Horseman episode "Surprise", the main characters are hiding in Mr. Peanutbutter and Pickles's house and trying not to get caught. So of course baby Ruthie wanders off, and the rest of the cast have to juggle handling her and not being found out.