Baby walkers are one of the things that comes to mind when we talk about baby equipment. They are widely used around the world and believed to help babies walk early. That is why it is shocking to learn that many pediatricians want to ban the use of infant walkers. What could be their reasons?
For decades, walkers have been used to support babies’ mobility as they learn to walk. Many parents see the equipment as ideal way to encourage infants to move their legs and practice walking. But recently the equipment becomes a source of concern to pediatricians as it poses dangers to infants. Causing accidents and injuries.
Baby walkers are the most common cause of injuries to babies. Sending thousands of infants to emergency rooms each year. In US alone, 230,000 children under 15 months old were hospitalized due to walker accidents between 1990 to 2014. 74% of these accidents were falling down the stairs followed by falling out of the walker. 90% of the injuries were in the head and neck. Some even had a skull fracture.
In 1997, there was a call to make the standard size for walker frames to be wider than doorways to prevent accidents. This safety standard became mandatory for all manufacturers in 2010 decreasing the average annual walker injuries to 23%. Unfortunately, the new standard does not prevent all the accidents caused by baby walkers. There are still about 2,000 infant walker related injuries each year. Still too many to ignore.
Aside from accidents and injuries, baby walkers are found to delay motor development of babies. This is contrary to the wide belief that the equipment can help baby walk early. In fact, walkers can interfere with babies’ natural stance. They encourages babies to depend on the support that holds them upright. Because of this, infants are not learning the proper balance needed for them to walk.
The equipment tends to encourage babies to scoot their toes on the floor putting their hips and knees in an abnormal position. Strengthening the wrong muscles in the legs. This can have a big impact in the muscles and joint development of babies. Leading to hip, foot, and ankle problems. In some cases, walkers affect posture and lead to idiopathic toe walking gait pattern development – toe walking.
So, what can you do as a parent to help your child learn to walk? Instead of baby walkers, you can use stationary activity centers which look like walkers but have no wheels. They usually have seats that rotate and bounce. Wheels are the primary cause of baby walker related accidents because it allows babies to be speedy. Letting them move more than 3 feet in just 1 second. This is why accidents happen even when adults are around.
Playpens are also great for babies’ journey of learning how to walk. They allow them to crawl, sit, hold on the sides to stand, and practice walking. Playpens help infants learn to walk in a natural way.
Your presence is the most important thing to help your baby start walking. You can assist him/her by holding his/her armpits and encourage him/her to move his/her feet forward with positive reinforcement and cheering. Your touch and voice can motivate your baby to happily make his/her first steps until eventually he/she can walk on his/her own.
Have patience when teaching your child how to walk. Do not compare him/her to other kids who learned to walk early as every child has different onset of developmental stage.