Your baby’s first steps are a huge milestone. So, to help your baby along this path of independence, you may have considered an infant or baby walker.
Baby walkers have been a go-to choice for many parents, providing a means for their little ones to explore the world on wheels while developing their motor skills.
Wheeled walkers have been around since bellbottoms and feathered hair were first in style. But in recent years, they have come under fire from many medical experts. It seems beneath this wheeled walker’s seemingly harmless appeal is a range of issues crucial for every parent to understand.
If you’re a concerned parent looking to make an informed decision about baby walkers, read on as we uncover the hidden dangers and risks. We also provide alternative ways you can safely promote your child’s development.
What are baby walkers?
A baby walker is a device that enables a child (generally between 6 to 15 months) to move around. It is designed for babies and toddlers who cannot walk on their own just yet.
A wheeled walker comes with a fabric seat inside a rounded plastic table and a rigid frame with several wheels attached at the bottom. It often has toys attached to it for your child to play with.
Your baby’s feet touch the ground and they can use their legs and feet to push off the ground – much like the Flintstones from back in the day.
Are baby walkers safe?
What could go wrong with a toy that teaches your child to walk? Plenty, it seems.
“Baby walkers are not safe and are a leading cause of injury in babies,” said Tracey Fejt, RN, trauma outreach and injury prevention coordinator with Banner Children’s. “They are already banned in Canada, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has also called for a ban.”
That’s because, when using infant walkers, babies can roll along pretty fast, almost three feet per second. So, while it may be cute to watch your little one zip across the room like Sha’Carri Richardson, it can lead to serious injuries in the blink of an eye.
There are several ways baby walkers can cause injuries. Here are the most common ones.
Injuries and drowning
A study found that between 1990 and 2014, nearly 231,000 children under 15 months visited the emergency department because of injuries related to baby walkers. Most of these injuries (a whopping 90%) involved the head and neck.
“Babies are so quick in these things,” Fejt said. “They can quickly roll downstairs or into pools, heaters or fireplaces. What’s more, they can’t get out of a walker if an injury occurs.”
There have been reports of children drowning in a pool or bathtub while in a walker.
Reach for dangerous things
Walkers make it easier for babies to reach higher-up things, such as cleaning supplies or a hot stove. They can pull over hot beverages or grab sharp objects.
Develop a poor walking pattern (gait)
Walkers are often advertised as devices that can help your child walk sooner, but research suggests they may make it harder for them to learn to walk. In addition, these walkers also encourage poor walking habits.
“When your little one uses a walker, they are not working on important skills like crawling, pulling themselves up, cruising or working on balance,” Fejt said. “It gives parents a false sense of their child’s progress.”
While baby walker injuries have declined in the last couple of decades, thanks to safety measures that help prevent walkers from falling or tipping over, more than 9,000 children are still injured yearly.
What are some safer alternatives to baby walkers?
The best alternative (and the cheapest!) is to let your baby learn the old-fashioned way. Start with tummy time and work your way to crawling, standing up, cruising and walking. It may not be as fun and exciting as a baby walker, but it is safer.
However, if entertainment is a part of the equation, Fejt suggested the following alternatives as well:
- Activity mats. These allow your baby to explore while strengthening their entire body.
- Highchairs. Your child can see what is happening while playing with toys on the tray before them.
- Stationary activity centers or exersaucers. They look like walkers but don’t have any wheels. Instead, they usually have seats that rotate and bounce. Some centers will even transition into play centers after your child has conquered walking.
- Push walking toys. Standing walkers are also helpful, but you will need to watch your little one while using them closely. Once your child stands up and pushes their walker, they use their whole body to make it move. This is great for muscle development.
Are my baby’s developmental milestones on track?
“Why hasn’t my child started walking yet?”
Worrying about whether or not your child is hitting certain developmental milestones is natural. While these milestones are a helpful guideline, don’t get overly stressed if they aren’t hit. Every baby develops at a different pace.
However, if you have concerns about your little one’s development, talk to their health care provider. They can offer reassurance and guidance.
While it may be fun for your baby to scoot around in a walker, they may be cruising into trouble. If you have questions about baby walkers and alternatives or how to encourage your baby to walk safely, talk to their pediatrician.
To find a Banner Children’s specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.