How Safe is A Baby Walker and will it benefit your Baby?

Baby Walker with BabyThe type of baby walker I am referring to is the one where your baby sits in a ring and runs around on their toes like a dodgem car, not the ones where the baby pushes them.  Babies seem to love them and it is known from various surveys that parents love using them as it keeps a fussy baby entertained often for many hours. These surveys have also shown that more than half of babies aged between 5 to 15 months use baby walkers and that most parents have the belief that their babies will benefit by learning to walk quicker. 

So the questions that come to mind are;

Believe it or not, Baby walkers date back to around the early 1850s.  They were made from wood or metal and the baby could barely touch the ground. However these days baby walkers are much lighter being made of hard plastic sitting on top of 4 to 6 wheels and have a comfortable suspended fabric seat which has two holes in it for baby's legs.  Manufacturers also place a lot of toys on top of most baby walkers these days.  They are usually designed for babies between the age of 5 and 16 months.

Baby development has a normal path to follow and a baby walker is not part of that path. These development goals are known as milestones. Each milestone represents a specific set of skills that a baby will need for normal day to day functioning.

Babies will automatically learn to walk by themselves when their muscles are developed enough to keep their body upright and they have learned some balancing skills.  Babies go through various stages, first a baby will develop their head movement, after which, a baby will learn how to sit upright. Once a baby has mastered balancing from sitting up a baby will start learning to crawl, from here your baby will begin to try standing up by themselves, developing further balancing skills in the process and then finally walking.  This is the natural path for a baby to go from tummy time to walking.

Using a walker is just giving your baby the ability to move around in an upright position before they have developed any of their own skills to do so.  The fact is that walkers were never designed to encourage normal walking patterns.

Babies that use walkers mostly learn to walk on their toes.  This sort of walking pattern is not normal and can lead to problems with the baby's Achilles tendon and also puts extra weight on the baby's knees which can lead to problems with your infants balance and knee development.   Also the standing position which is supported by the walker does not help to improve a baby's balance any quicker.

If you put your baby in a walker very early on and some manufacturers advertise 4 months old which is ridiculous, your baby will struggle to be able to crawl and will end up lacking the  important skills learned from the correct natural path of development.  It is a fact that crawling teaches a baby important motor and perceptual skills such as judging distance, depth and also rhythmic leg movement which are all very important skills for a baby to learn to walk properly.  There is a very good chance that any baby that spends too much time in a walker will not properly master these skills which are learnt from crawling. Walkers also encourage random leg movement in any direction. Again this is leading away from the important skill of rhythmic leg movement.

It is natural for babies to start walking once their have mastered the necessary skills. Remember that every baby is different! Some babies will start to walk at about 9 months, others as late as 15 months or even at a later time.  You should encourage your baby to develop muscle strength and balance by playing with them and try to encourage tummy time, some soft toys, etc.

A lot of babies have had head injuries caused by the baby walker tipping over. Even worse is the fact that babies have had fatal accidents with baby walkers. They are now considered to be one of the most dangerous inventions ever developed for babies. Studies have also suggested that a baby walker may actually delay walking by 2 to 3 weeks.

Many organizations such as the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the American Academy of Pediatrics have issued warnings to discourage Moms and Dads from using baby walkers.  Canada has actually gone to the extent of banning baby walkers from being sold, imported or advertised.

To summarize this, safety is a concern, it removes some benefit from your baby's natural learning progression and it rarely ever encourages your baby to walk any sooner.

If you do decide to use a baby walker, only use it for very short periods of time and make sure you supervise at all times and beware of stairs.

Article Written by Thomas Thiel ©