Redeeming the Baby Walker: Truths and Myths Behind the “Bad” Reputation

When it comes to baby walkers, there are many mixed emotions, heated debates and people (parents and pediatric professionals) on both sides of the fence.  The wide usage of walkers lessened in the 1990s as more and more injuries occurred, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) even tried to have them banned in 1995.  But as controversial as they may be, there are still a millions sold each year in the US.  Why?  Perhaps many parents see its advantages, or perhaps they fail to see the potential dangers.

Though I happen to enjoy the freedom that my Jeep Liberty Baby Walker from Kolcraft has provided my tired arms over the years, my intention is not to convince you one way or the other.  I would like, however, to redeem the walker and debunk any myths behind the proposed hazards and negative developmental effects from my own perspective, because frankly, walkers have received more than their fair share of criticism and unwarranted negative press without a fair rebuttal.


ARGUMENT #1: BABY CAN REACH HIGHER THAN HE COULD ON HIS OWN, THUS POSING A THREAT TO REACH POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS ITEMS.This is actually arguable in my opinion.  All of my own children have only reached a few inches (if that) higher than they could on their own. But, I did not start using a walker until my babies got to the age where they were able to cruise or practice standing on their own. This meant that they could very well stand on their tiptoes to reach desired objects that were just out of their reach even without a walker.  Even though walkers are on wheels and can seat a baby in an upright position, they are designed so that infants have to keep at least their toes on the ground to move around.  If this is true, then how much higher can the infant reach than when on his own? 

ARGUMENT #2: WALKERS DELAY MOTOR AND MENTAL DEVELOPMENT.

The argument for developmental delays include:

  • Walkers keep infants in an upright and unnatural moving position before their time. This can pose a risk for spinal development.
  • Babies who use baby walkers show delays in learning to crawl, stand and walk.  The frequent use of walkers can hinder the infant’s balancing skills.  To acquire walking skills, infants must be able to see their feet and legs working together in movement and position as they walk, but sitting in a walker prevents them from doing so.
  • Movement (by crawling and walking) requires the use of muscles not strengthened by baby walkers (which only strengthen the lower leg muscles).
  • By keeping a child in a walker, the caregiver prevents the child from learning how to crawl, which interferes with the necessary cross-crawl pattern of the brain.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the research surrounding these claims needs to be clarified.  Most of the tested individuals and the supposed delays came from caregivers (mainly day care centers) that left babies in walkers for prolonged periods of time, and even used them with very young infants that are not yet ready for this type of mobility. In addition, they did not prove that walkers were the only source of the delays.

One suggestion of mine is to not put an infant in a walker until he can pull up and possibly even cruise on his own.  Secondly, (and an obvious one at that) do not use a baby walker as a substitute or a babysitter.  Make sure that infants get enough floor time to develop their muscles accurately.

According to research, walkers can delay loco-motor development, such as walking and standing, up to 3.3 – 3.7 days for every 24 hours of use (other research has shown that it can be delayed up to 3 weeks).  My question is: how long would one put a baby in a walker anyway?  At most, I kept my children in a walker for a cumulative 30 minutes per day – just enough to keep them entertained and let me have a breather while still being vigilant.  I highly doubt that I even came close to 24 hours of total use with each child.  Even if this is true for short spans of usage time (which it is not), a delay of a few days or a few short weeks is not much in the grand scheme of things.  Plus, they are still being stimulated in other ways.  (Despite my using a baby walker, my children all crawled between 6 and 8 months and walked at 8 months, 9 months and 10 months of age.) 

 

ARGUMENT #3: BABIES THAT USE WALKERS TEND TO HAVE ABNORMAL POSITIONING AND MOVEMENTS.

With prolonged usage of baby walkers, infants do tend to have an unnatural gait and develop tendencies to lean forward, take shorter steps and/or tiptoe walk for months after they have stopped using the device.  The operative words here are prolonged usage.  Again, if you use a baby walker, do not use it for more than 30 minutes per day. This is true of other alternative entertainment toys – jumpers, stationary exersaucers and activity centers, walk behinds, swings and the like can all interfere with motor, postural and mental developmental.  Most of the time, research has shown that these abnormalities resolve on their own over time.

 

ARGUMENT #4:  WALKERS CAN INCREASE BABY’S SAFETY RISK.

Falling Down Stairs

Walkers have come a long way since the early models, and some of the questioned injuries of the past are almost moot.  However, even with the new designs and industry standards, injuries can still happen.  Most of these injuries (96% to be exact) are from falling down stairs.  (Burns and accidental poisoning are also on the list.)  New regulations require that walkers be made wider (preventing the infant from going through most standard interior doorways, which measure between 24-32 inches) and with rubber friction strips to stop them at a step’s edge.

From the federal site for the 2010 safety standards:

As discussed in the preamble to the proposed rule (74 FR at 45705), the stair fall protection provisions in the ASTM standard dramatically affected incidents related to walkers (an 88% decrease in estimated incidents related to walkers treated in emergency rooms from 1994 to 2008). However, the stair fall hazard remains the most prevalent hazard in incidents related to walkers with some of these incidents involving walkers that do not comply with the voluntary standard, damaged or worn walkers, or children who are strong enough to lift the walker and defeat the stair fall protection.

First and foremost, make sure that you purchase a new walker from a reputable source that follows safety regulations.  Then check for recalls often.  Carefully and frequently inspect the walker for broken or loose parts and the friction strips for debris and wear and tear (which reduce its effectiveness).  Also, use the walker according to the manual and do not remove the friction strips.  As obvious as this may sound, many parents still remove the strips in order to allow their infants to glide better and faster on carpeted flooring.  I had the opportunity to witness the behind-the-scenes testing that Kolcraft performs with their walkers, and let me assure you that they are very safe.  Their safety features work beautifully as intended, that is, unless you remove the strips or alter the walker in ways that are not recommended.

Moving Too Fast

A common misnomer is that an infant is safer in the protective surrounding barriers of a walker than on his own.  Babies are not safer in a walker.  In a baby walker, an infant can move much faster (a whopping 3 feet per second) and much easier than he could on his own, so the risk for accidents, injuries and the ability to get into dangerous areas definitely can increase.  It would be a good idea to confine the baby to a baby-proofed room and to carefully and constantly supervise him throughout the entire time he is using it.

 

Despite the concerns, from my personal experience, it is possible for parents and children to safely and successfully enjoy the use of baby walkers without the costs of developmental delays and safety issues. I didn’t use them very often nor for extended periods of time, but when I did, those few minutes were heavenly.  Walkers don’t promote walking, as some people may suppose; but for our kids, it allowed them to explore while preventing potentially serious falls on our hard tile or crashes into sharp corners from their overly ambitious cruising.  The efficiency in mobility and risk of injuries can be lessened if we take precautions when using baby walkers.  But like all convenient entertainment gadgets for infants, they need to be carefully monitored and used sparingly.

 

Product was supplied in exchange for a post, but this did not affect the opinions expressed nor the topic of this post.

Comments

  1. 2

    As with all things, I think the key is moderation. If you leave a baby in the walker for hours, of course they’re going to have increased risk of abnormalities, but sometimes a parent just needs to have their child be occupied for 15-20 minutes. I too think there can be a place for them, as long as caregivers don’t ignore the baby.

  2. 3

    thank you for pitting what I was thinking into words. I am a grandma who purchased a very safe, new style walker for my granddaughter who is 9 months old. She is not allowed to use it because of the very reasons listed in the article. I raised 4 kids, 3 of them boys, including a set of twins, and I KNOW their development was not hindered by my using walkers with them. And as noted they are as safe as a child loose at same age who is almost walking! Reasonable use (30 mins sounds good), no stairs, watch and supervise, and they provide a welcome relief for Mom!

  3. 4

    Pretend your kid was a little older and you bought them a go-cart or anything like that. Would you let them ride around all day? No probably not. Special occasions get it out let them take some laps around the big back yard u might have and let them have a little fun. Look at a walker like that. Even as adults it’s similar, except we are not developing anymore, anything not used in moderation is bad for us. The key word is moderation. You can say negative things about every safe baby product on the market. Cribs are bad, car seats, stollers, whatever you like. If you leave then in it too long they will not develop properly or get injured. Like the author said 30 minutes a day big woop. Common sense should tell you there is nothing wrong with that. It’s like saying of u set the baby in 1 time for 15 minutes it’s over your baby will have all types of negative side effects. Common sense says no that’s crazy 1 time wouldn’t hurt anything. So what about 2 times? 3 time? Well duh maybe 100000 times and 100000 hours might. But cautious parents knowing the prolonged risks would never think it’s okay to use for hours a day every day. Just use common sense and moderation and a baby walker should be fun as hell for your baby. My baby is 7 weeks and will one day have one.

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