Have you been considering getting an infant walker? If so, don’t. While some people think that walkers are useful for their babies, entertaining them and teaching them to walk, this isn’t true. A baby walker can actually be dangerous and might even delay your child’s development. So, if you’re thinking of buying a baby walker or already have one at home, read on to find out more about baby walkers.
What Is a Baby Walker?
Also known as baby strollers or walkers, a baby walker is a mobile device that has been specially designed to keep babies occupied and entertained while they’re learning to take their first steps. The walker provides the child with support and stability so that they can take steps while the wheeled base of the walker allows it to be pushed forward by the child.
The most common baby walker is a wheeled ring with a central, suspended baby seat that has openings for the child’s legs. The base of the walker is larger than the top, which gives the child space to move their legs while also keeping the baby walker from tipping over. There’s also usually a shelf near the seat with toys attached to it as well as a pretend steering wheel for the baby to hold while moving.
At first, baby walkers were advertised as a way to keep babies entertained and help them learn to walk while their parents were busy doing housework nearby. As time has passed, baby walkers have become a very common tool for parents to buy because they believe that it will help their children learn to move around on their own before crawling or walking.
Baby Walkers Aren’t Safe
There has been a debate about the safety of baby walkers for decades. New studies that have found links between baby walkers and injuries have caused this debate to intensify.
Canada has banned the sale of baby walkers since 2004. The American Academy of Pediatrics has called for a ban on wheeled baby walkers, both their manufacture and sale. In Australia, as well as in a number of other countries, using baby walkers isn’t recommended.
According to a study published in Pediatrics, more than 230,000 children under the age of 15 months were treated in emergency departments in the U.S. for injuries related to baby walkers in the 24-year period between 1990 and 2014. The majority of these injuries, some of which are serious, happen when the baby falls down the stairs in their walker, resulting in head or neck injuries.
Baby walkers are unsafe because the child can move very quickly. On top of that, babies are taller when in a walker and can potentially reach items that they would not be able to otherwise. The potential dangers of baby walkers include:
- Falling down stairs;
- Crashing into something hard or sharp;
- Tipping over while moving;
- Being toppled over by another child;
- Having access to electrical cords;
- Being able to reach cupboards where hazardous items are stored, such as cleaning supplies;
- Moving quickly to dangerous parts of the home, such as the fireplace, oven, space heater, or swimming pool; and
- Being able to reach hot drinks and other dangerous objects on top of tables.
According to that same study, mentioned above, most of these baby walker-related injuries happen when a parent is watching. This is because when they’re in a walker, a baby can move quickly, at about three feet per second. At that speed, a baby walker isn’t even safe under supervision.
It’s impossible for anyone to react quickly enough because once they see that the baby’s about to fall or that something dangerous is about to happen, it’s already too late to do anything. The baby can simply fall down the stairs, off a balcony, out the door, or bump into a piece of furniture and knock it over. The sheer speed makes it too fast to stop or even control them.
Walkers Don’t Help Babies Learn to Walk
Rather than helping them learn to walk, baby walkers interfere in the learning process.
Studies have found that babies that use walkers may learn to walk about a month later than those babies that don’t use walkers. The reason behind this delayed development is that baby walkers help babies move around before they’ve developed enough physically to do so on their own. In a walker, babies lean forward to push with both feet, delaying their learning to remain upright and place one foot in front of the other as we do when walking.
Part of the learning process when babies are beginning to walk involves seeing and understanding the movement of their legs and feet. A walker with a tray blocks the child’s ability to see their lower body, which stops them from getting the visual information they need for motor development. As a result, the baby may develop unusual movement patterns, delayed muscle control, or even medical conditions, such as hip dysplasia.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a baby walker has no value and delays the child’s walking development. When using a walker, any desire the baby might have to walk on their own will be lower because the walker does a good part of the work for them. This means that a baby walker hurts the baby’s motivation as well as their muscle development.
In addition to not buying or using a walker yourself, you should also dispose of—not donate—any that you might already have. If there are baby walkers at other places that you leave your baby, such as their grandparents’ house or a daycare center, you should ask for them to get rid of their walkers, too. The most convenient and safe way to contain a crawling baby is a playpen, not a walker.
What to Use Instead of a Baby Walker
If you want the best alternative for a baby walker, push toys or baby push walkers are what you need. Not only are these the most affordable alternatives, but they also require less room than some of the other options, making them perfect for those who have a tight budget or are short on space.
Push toys are made to help babies take supported steps. You’ll want one with a sturdy handle that the child can hold on to as well as an adjustable speed that can be loosened as the baby gains more skill and confidence while walking. These toys have wheels, so you do need to keep a careful eye on your child when in use.
Even if you don’t buy a push toy, your child will most likely find one in your home. It can be a large box, a smaller chair, or whatever they can find and make it move.
Less Recommended Alternatives
Baby bouncers are another popular alternative to walkers. They’re safer and babies enjoy them. That being said, I don’t recommend using baby bouncers either. Bouncing can promote unnatural movement patterns or may even cause joint injuries, including symptomless micro-injuries.
Stationary Activity Centers
Stationary activity centers, also known as stationary playpens, may look like walkers, but they’re much safer because they don’t have wheels. These activity centers usually have a seat in the middle that sometimes swivels so that the baby can reach the toys that surround them.
Generally speaking, however, anything that restricts movement can delay a child’s gross motor development, therefore this isn’t an alternative I would recommend.
The best thing you can do to help your baby develop properly is to ensure plenty of free play, an open space, and a safe, stimulating – but not overstimulating – environment. Don’t restrict your child’s movement with walkers, bouncers, rocking chairs, car seats, strollers, or even supported walking too often or for long periods of time or you may cause a delay in the development of their gross motor movement.
If you think your child’s experiencing delays in mastering typical developmental milestones, don’t hesitate to seek professional advice. Early intervention is crucial in supporting their progress.