Baby walkers are intended to help babies or infants learn and adapt to walking. Although different babies develop their skills at different ages, statistically, 12 months is the average age by which babies start to walk (1). During this time, most parents (50-77%) resort to walkers to help their little ones (2). However, certain experts may have a different opinion about it. This post will tell you why.
Is It Safe For A Baby To Use Baby Walkers?
No. Baby walkers are unsafe and are a leading cause of injury in children under the age of four (2).
Pediatric experts unanimously discourage the use of this equipment. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has also called for a ban on baby walkers with wheels (3). Therefore, parents must avoid using walkers to keep the baby safe.
What Makes Baby Walkers Unsafe For Infants?
As per the American Academy of Pediatrics, walkers eliminate a baby’s desire to walk, rather than help them learn how to walk (3). Apart from these, there are other reasons to think twice before using a walker. These are:
- Risk of falling from the stairs: Baby walkers are a hazard when you have stairs in your home. According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), most walker-related injuries happen when a baby in a walker moves to the edge of the staircase and falls (4).
- The baby can lose balance: Babies could lose their balance when gliding on the floor in a walker and take a fall. According to the AAP, a child can move at a speed of three feet per second in a walker. Moving at such incredible speeds is overwhelming for a baby and can result in the loss of balance.
- The head gets hurt the most when a baby falls from the walker: When a baby loses balance in a walker, it is their skull that takes the brunt of the fall. A study has found that 82% of falls from a baby walker lead to a head injury in the infant (5). The head is extra delicate in babies due to their soft skull bones and developing brain. Any grievous injury can cause a lasting impact on the baby’s life.
- A walker increases the risks of accidental death: Baby walkers could lead to not just falls, but a variety of other incidents. Medical experts state that a baby on a walker can have access to upper shelves from where they may pull down large items that can fall on their heads. The easy accessibility increases the risk of the baby getting access to poisonous substances, hot food items, and also places like the swimming pool or the bathtub where they can fall, choke, and even drown.
Accidents with baby walkers can happen even when elders are around. Parents can do little during an untoward incident since things happen quickly with barely any time to react. Baby walkers are not only risky but can also interfere with the baby’s development.
Do Baby Walkers Help In Baby’s Development?
No. Unlike the popular belief, baby walkers neither help in the physical development of the baby nor do they make the baby walk better. An infant will stand up and start cruising (walk with support) once their legs are ready, irrespective of whether they use a walker or not.
- A study conducted on 109 infants published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics showed that the infants, who used walkers, sat, crawled, and walked later than the ones who did not (6). This documents that baby walkers can delay physical development by making the baby use their leg muscles differently than they usually do.
- Also, walkers reduce the baby’s time on the floor. This causes a miss on practicing important, repetitive movements needed for them to reach their walking milestones. Babies use their toes when they are in a walker. This tightens their leg muscles and interferes with normal walking development. This habit remains even when they are out of the walker, and they often want to keep using their toes. This impacts their walking practice.
- Also, babies sit and pull themselves up while learning to balance. A baby doesn’t balance in a walker, delaying their learning of this important skill. Being in a walker also means less time on hands and knees in a crawling or pre-crawling position. This is important to developing weight bearing through both the pelvis and shoulders.
What Are The Alternatives To Baby Walkers?
Play yards or playpens and stationary activity centers are safer alternatives to a baby walker and are known to boost a baby’s physical development without causing any risks. Stationary activity centers are like walkers with no wheels and can be used for a few hours every day (7).
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why are baby walkers banned?
Baby walkers are banned in Canada because of the risk of injuries for babies. Similarly, in the US, the AAP has advised people against using baby walkers. According to a study, 230,000+ babies were in emergencies to get treated for injuries related to walkers (8).
2. Can baby walkers damage legs?
Baby walkers apply strength to the legs’ wrong muscles, which can impact the normal development of the muscles and joints. Additionally, walkers can lead to babies managing their weight with the help of their knees and hips, leading to abnormal walking patterns and an increased risk of hip problems in the future (9).
Although it is a popular belief that baby walkers help babies learn to walk, pediatricians confirm that parents should not use them as they pose a risk to the baby’s safety. Baby walkers are considered unsafe because they increase the risk of children falling down the stairs, losing balance, or hurting their heads. Moreover, walkers delay the development of leg muscles and prevent them from spending time on the floor. If you want to help your baby learn to walk, stationary activity centers and play yards are more beneficial. Further, it is important to remember that children learn skills at their own pace, and hurrying or forcing them will create stress.
2. Shervin Badihian et al.; The Effect of Baby Walker on Child Development: A Systematic Review; National Center For Biotechnology Information (2017)
3. Baby Walkers: A Dangerous Choice; Healthy Children; American Academy of Pediatrics
4. Baby Walkers; United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (2008)
5. Al-Nouri L and Al-Isami S; Baby walker injuries.; National Center For Biotechnology Information (2006)
6. Siegel AC and Burton RV; Effects of baby walkers on motor and mental development in human infants.; National Center For Biotechnology Information (1999)
7. Baby Walker Safety; Nationwide Children’s Hospital
8. Parents: Don’t use a baby walker; Harvard Health Publishing
9. Myths & Truths About Baby Walkers; NHS Shetland