Baby walkers are wheeled devices that allow a baby to scoot themselves around the house, by pushing off with their feet.
However, as argued by the American Academy of Pediatrics, they are controversial devices, and they need to be banned.
Citing numerous injuries, and that they can delay normal infant physical developments and achievements such as crawling and walking.
Despite this, baby walkers remain popular devices used by parents all over the world.
The age at which an infant can use a baby walker varies from infant to infant depending on the baby’s size, strength and pattern of development.
Now that your baby is showing rapid signs of growth, you must be keen to see him take his first steps.
Walking is an important event for the baby and parent as it signifies independence.
It is important to help your baby along with this discovery and freedom, you may want to encourage him by bringing home a baby walker.
What age can a baby use a walker?
Well, the is no fixed age-appropriate for an infant to use a walker, the baby’s size, strength and development will have to be considered before making the decision.
For the baby to be able to use a baby walker, the infant needs to be 6 -16 months old, be able to hold their head up quite steadily, and have the feet touch the floor, when placed in the walker to appropriately use it.
Why do I need a baby walker?
The purpose of a baby walker is to entertain the baby who cannot walk as yet and also increase their mobility.
Jay L. Hoecker, M. D, writing for Mayo Clinic says that some parents think that using a walker will help their baby walk earlier, although, the opposite appears to be true, as in some cases, infants on baby walkers tend to delay to walk.
At the minimum, a baby must be able to hold his head up steadily and have their feet touch the floor to appropriately use a walker.
Walkers are designed to be used by infants between the ages of 6 to 16 months.
According to Consumer Reports, and children who can already walk should not use them. For the walker to move, the infant has to figure out how to push with his feet to move.
Risks associated with baby walkers
Let’s examine some of the risks associated with baby walkers:
i). Fingers and toes can get stuck and or pinched in the metal hinges that allow the walker to collapse.
ii). Sitting in the walker may also give the infant access to objects normally out of his reach. Furthermore, walkers can fall downstairs, into the pool or run into stoves and other dangerous areas.
You may think that this can also happen to a crawling baby, but in the case of a walker, it moves quickly as compared to crawl.
It can move as fast as 3 feet per second as observed by the Women and Infants of Rhode Island, leaving parents less time to react.
In 2003, over 3000 American Children were injured while in baby walkers.
Development Issues: A 1999 study by lead author A.C Siegel of the Department of Psychology at Case Western Reserve University reported in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics that, babies who use walkers sat, crawled and walked later than those who did not use them. Additionally, infants who used walkers also scored lower on Bayley scales of mental and motor development, a standardized assessment test for infants.
Babies do not get the normal visual feedback that accompanies motor skills, Siegel states, causing a form of early deprivation.
Babies develop control over their bodies in a prescribed pattern.
Using a walker allows the babies who could not otherwise move get around the house, through passing all the normal developmental steps that usually lead up to movement.
Now because they cannot see their feet in the walker, they do not get the normal visual feedback that accompanies motor skills, Siegel states, causing a type of early deprivation.
While babies too young to move on their own can scoot around in a walker, the early movement has no benefit at all and many negative developmental effects, in addition to increasing the potential for injury.
- Risk of skidding and falling from the stairs: Baby walkers are a hazard when you have stairs in your home. According to the US consumer product safety commission, most walker related injuries happen when a baby in a walker moves to the edge of the staircase and falls.
- Risk of losing balance: Babies can also lose 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 3 feet per second in a baby walker. Such a speed is overwhelming for a baby and can lead to a loss in balance.
- Hitting and hurting the head is most common when the walker accidents happen; When the baby loses balance and takes a fall from the fall, it is the skull that takes the brunt of the fall. Studies have found out that 80% of the baby falls or walker falls lead to a head injury in the infant. The head is extra delicate for infants due to their soft skull bones and developing brain. Any ferocious injury can cause a lasting impact on the baby’s life.
- Increases the chances of accidental death: Baby walkers can 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. Easy accessibility and mobility may increase the risk of the baby getting access to poisonous substances, hot items and also reach places like the swimming pool or the bathtub where they can fall, choke and even drown.
- Baby walkers are not only risky but also interfere with the normal development of the baby.
Pros and Cons of Baby Walker
At times, you may need a place to place your baby when you cannot hold or focus on them for a moment or two. You must choose a safe place for your baby to play.
There are some benefits of using a walker but the detriments are safely related and should be considered carefully.
Advantages of using a baby walker
1). Stay content and happy.
Baby walkers typically feature an assortment of toys and gadgets for baby to use while he sits in it. Many babies enjoy these toys so yours is likely to stay content and happy while he sits in it.
Remember this should be used in areas far away from stairs and other hazards and only for short periods.
2). Promote mobility:
Children between the ages of 8-12 months are keen to explore their surroundings.
Walkers can provide them with the ability to be mobile and help them maneuver themselves and explore their surroundings without any assistance.
3). Encourages and Inspires the baby:
Most baby walkers are fitted with simple toys or attractions to keep the baby engaged and busy. These are designed to stimulate mental growth and provide visual stimulation too.
A walker allows you to carry on with your daily tasks since the baby remains engaged with the attached toys.
4). Encourages the infant to walk:
With the support at hand, your baby may be encouraged to take his first steps. It helps the baby understand the standing pose.
Disadvantages of using a baby walker
- Objects which are out of reach for a crawling baby may come within reach of a baby in a walker and this could be the cause of serious injuries.
- A walker with wheels may reduce your reaction time if it picks up speed and can lead to accidents.
- The babies’ toes and fingers could be injured as the walker’s design may have folding parts or hinges.
- Babies using walkers may reach the walking and crawling milestones later than others who do not.
- Your baby should follow the roll sit up-crawl-walk routine for which they need to stay on the floor. This work out helps in strengthening all the muscles needed to stand and walk. A walker may prevent your baby from doing so and impair normal development.
- The natural process of rolling over, crawling, standing, and then walking teaches a baby how to balance themselves. When you allow the baby to use the walker, walking on toes may seem natural to the baby. This habit is likely to continue even when the baby will need to learn to balance himself afresh.
Precautions to take while introducing the baby walker to your infant
- Ensure that the baby walker is used on a flat even surface only to prevent it from sliding leading to serious injuries.
- Keep the baby and the walker away from staircases and water bodies such as pools of any kind and size.
- A responsible adult in their sound mind should be around while the baby is using the walker.
- Remove sharp and pointed objects or surfaces from the vicinity. Heavy or breakable objects should be moved from the area.
Are baby walkers safe?
Baby walkers are unsafe for babies and are a leading cause of infant injuries. Pediatric experts unanimously discourage the use of these devices.
The American Academy of Pediatrics have also called for a ban on wheeled baby walkers.
In Canada, the sale of baby walkers is banned. The American Academy of Pediatrics would like the same to be true in the US.
This is because baby walkers are dangerous, according to a study in journal pediatrics, between 1990 and 2014, more than 230,000 children less than 15 months of age were treated in US emergency departments for baby walker related injuries.
The majority of injuries happen when children fall down the staircase in a walker, usually injuring their head or neck sometimes seriously.
But it is not just stairs that can be a problem, children can get their fingers caught between the hinges of the walker, put things down by themselves or grab dangerous things such as sharp objects or hot liquids that would otherwise be out of their way if they were crawling.
There also have been cases of injuries form the toys attached to a baby walker.
Between 1990 and 2003, baby walker injuries reduced by 84.5% as voluntary safety standards were instituted and more families started to buy standers that did not move.
In 2010, mandatory federal safety standards were instituted and took effect.
The standards include measures to help prevent walkers from falling on the stairs or tipping over and to ensure that babies inside them are well supported and cannot get stuck inside them, a parking brake to keep the walker stationary.
Is the baby walker worth it?
The baby will stand up or start walking with support once they are ready and their legs are ready to carry their weight irrespective of whether they use a walker or not.
A baby walker can delay the physical development by making the baby use their leg muscles differently than they usually do.
Babies swaddled in baby walkers at a very young age may not even crawl, which eventually has an impact on other baby development milestones later in their life.
Baby Walker Alternatives: (What to use instead of Baby Walker)
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 activities centers are like walkers with no wheels and can be used for a few hours every day.
You can get these activity centers when the baby is around 8 months old.
Play yards can be used for babies of any age since the baby can sit, stand, lie down or try to walk in them safely.
Baby walkers are not safe at any age. Your baby will learn to stand and walk when they are ready to do so, rushing through it cannot help them attain a milestone earlier.
Therefore, using a walker is not a good idea.