As a parent, you want to help your baby go through transition periods from rolling over, wriggling, crawling, to finally walking. Using a baby walker to help them learn to walk has been found to be more dangerous than helpful. Some countries have outright banned the product. For example, Canada has placed a ban on baby walkers since 2004.
As an alternative, you can consider stationary playpens, like rotating seats or bouncy seats, to help your infant develop their sense of balance to help them learn to walk.
When your little one takes those first few unaided steps, it’s good reason to break out the bubbly, but what most parents don’t realize is the precarious position they place their little one into.
Parents invest in a baby walker because they consider it safe; besides, a baby walker also frees up a lot of time for moms or caregivers to attend to other things that need attention around the home.
However, pediatricians and other infant care specialists supported by clinical research are against the casual and unsupervised use of baby walkers as these devices may invite unnecessary accidents.
Let’s look at why medical professionals do not recommend baby walkers and what safe alternatives there are that will get your little one up on their own two feet.
What is a baby walker?
Baby walkers are a common household item that parents across the world would have in their homes.
They were initially promoted to help babies learn how to walk and keep them busy and stimulated while their parents did housework around them.
A baby walker is a specially designed mobile device to keep babies occupied while they are learning to walk. These are also referred to as baby strollers or simply “walkers.”
They are designed with a wheeled base that can be pushed along by the child, who can stand up and take steps with the provided support.
The more common baby walker is a ring-shaped device on wheels with a centralized suspended baby seat that has openings for the baby’s legs.
There is also a shelf area around the seat that usually has an assortment of baby toys attached to it and a play steering wheel that the infant can hold onto. The top of the walker is smaller than the base, which is designed to prevent the walker from tipping over, but it also gives the baby space to maneuver their legs.
There is also an A-frame stroller or baby walker on wheels which has a large handle for the baby to hold onto and be pushed like a shopping cart.
The front is decorated with different activity toys, but the design suggests that it is more an activity toy for toddlers who can already walk or who can at least stand up unassisted.
A brief look at the history of baby walkers
Baby walkers date back to the 14th and 15th centuries, where they are depicted in works of art.
Modern-day medical specialists use walk-assist devices for children with cerebral palsy and other motor skill disorders to help them keep their balance while learning how to walk.
It’s important to know that patients are always assisted when using therapy-based mobility devices.
Over the last few decades, it became common for parents to buy cheaply made plastic baby walkers for their children because they considered the device beneficial for helping babies learn how to move around on their own before they learned how to crawl or walk.
The dangers of using a baby walker
There has been a lot of debate about whether baby walkers are safe to use in recent years.
The safety of baby walkers has been debated for decades, but in recent years the safety debate has intensified because of new studies that found a link between baby walkers and injuries.
The evidence suggests that babies who use these products have a higher risk for injury than those who don’t.
Canada is the first and only country so far to place an outright ban on baby walkers as they do not comply with the country’s strict safety standards.
The ban came into effect in 2004 and remains in force.
Increased chance of injury
Baby walkers are pieces of baby equipment that are meant to help babies learn how to walk; however, they are not safe for babies because they increase the chance of injury.
There are many dangers associated with baby walkers. They can cause injury by bumping into furniture, tripping on an obstacle, or even falling down the stairs.
For some parents, there is also a concern that their baby will get too used to sitting in a walker and never learn how to just stand up on their own two feet.
Research conducted on the negative effects of baby walkers on infants is inconclusive at this stage, so it will be unwise to fall in with the narrative that baby walkers affect an infant’s development or may result in medical conditions like hip dysplasia.
The biggest danger posed by baby walkers used indoors is falling down a flight of steps. Babies can also reach objects that may cause injury.
For example, the cords of window blinds or lamp cords; babies can get entangled in them, leading to serious danger.
Outdoor use may result in the walker suddenly jamming on small stones or uneven ground and tipping over.
This may result in the little one bumping their head and possibly sustaining injuries as their bones are still relatively fragile.
The reason why people think baby walkers retard development is because of how babies lean forward and push off with both feet in the walker to gain momentum.
This is believed to delay the normal walking pattern of placing one foot in front of the other while remaining upright.
Having said this, anything in excess regarding baby development can affect normal development.
Spending too much in a baby car seat can affect spinal alignment, and if a baby is swaddled too tightly with their legs in a straight position can result in hip dysplasia.
There is just not enough clinical research to label baby walkers as a cause of hip dysplasia or retarded motor skill development.
The alternative to a baby walker
The best initial way to encourage your baby to practice standing up and walking is by creating a secured play area with a few of their favorite toys to keep them stimulated.
Stationary playpens like rotating seats or bouncy seats help babies develop their sense of balance which is essential when they try walking for the first time.
There is no better way to teach your little one to walk than to be physically involved.
Hold your little one’s hands and allow your baby to pull themself up, then slowly lead your baby into their first step.
Doing this daily for a few minutes each time will help improve body strength and coordination.
Eventually, you will be able to walk your baby by holding hands. When your little one feels confident enough, they will begin using one hand until one day you’ll see your little one walking towards you and waving as if to say, “look mom, no hands.”
Can I teach my baby to walk sooner than normal?
Babies each develop at their own pace, and although some encouragement helps, it is not a good idea to try and speed up the process.
If your baby shows no sign of standing up or walking after their first birthday, discuss your concern with your doctor.
If I watch my little one closely, can I use a walking ring?
It takes a few seconds when you’re distracted for your baby to push off in the walker and land up in trouble.
Unless you have a wide-open clean flat surface like a high school gym for your baby to enjoy cruising in the walker, to still make use of the walker, you can remove the wheels and have it as a stationary activity center.
Are baby walkers really that dangerous?
Yes, they are as dangerous as motor vehicles because although not everyone will end up in a motor vehicle collision, the risk is ever-present.
Not all babies will get injured while using a walker but the risk of injury is also ever-present. Read this article for more details.
Babies go through development phases, and each is recorded as a milestone. Taking those first few unassisted steps is a significant milestone that fills parents with pride.
Rushing your child to reach this milestone earlier by using perceived walking aids like a walker is done in vain as children develop at their own pace.
Baby walkers expose little ones to unnecessary risks that may result in potentially serious injuries.
Walkers introduce babies to increased mobility or speed when the concern should be on taking slow, purposeful baby steps.
Being directly involved in helping your baby stand upright and using your hands as support helps build your baby’s muscle strength and motor skills that will lead to walking unassisted.