Scientific research does not confirm that baby walkers have a negative impact on child development. So why has Canada banned their sale? And why does the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend not using them?
It’s commonly known that the use of baby walkers raises a lot of controversy – not only among parents, but also among professionals who deal with the health and development of young children. Indeed, if you start digging deeper, you will quickly find this equipment is strongly criticized. What about the research then??? Well, various studies show different results – therefore, it is really difficult to either confirm or deny the negative impact of walkers on child development. Some studies have shown a time delay in independent walking between children who used baby walkers and those who didn’t. However, this was considered statistically insignificant. On the other hand, there are studies which indicate developmental delays of children who used a walker compared to babies who didn’t. Babies using a walker would start to sit, crawl, and walk later – and scored lower in mental development and motor skills tests.
Without a doubt, the number of children who use this type of equipment is significant. You have to remember that each child develops differently; therefore scientists agree that more research has to be done in order to determine the actual impact of walkers on early child development.
IS THE RESEARCH ACTUALLY NEEDED???
In my opinion, if we focus on the course of proper child development we will be able to answer this question ourselves. Putting the research aside, there is always a chance that your child might be adversely affected by walker use. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t like to find out the hard way…
WHAT HAS SHOCKED ME?
I knew that baby walkers were popular, however, I didn’t expect that some parents would put their babies into them at such a young age. I have found that even 3-month-old babies are put into baby walkers!!!
The percentage of babies using walkers varies from country to country. It ranges from 50% (in the United Kingdom) to 92% (in the United States). In Canada, the sale of baby walkers has been completely banned since 2004.
WHY HAS CANADA BANNED BABY WALKERS?
The main reason is safety. The use of walkers is associated with an increased number of accidents and injuries – especially of the head and neck. Between the years 1990 and 2014 there were over 230,000 cases in the U.S. alone in which children under 15-months of age ended up in the Emergency Room after being injured while using a walker. That’s an average of 26 cases a day. Is this a lot? In my opinion, it is indeed. The reported injuries were mainly burns and cases of falling down stairs.
This is why in Canada the sale of this kind of equipment is prohibited; and it is also why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends not using them. (Despite this recommendation, 92% of American babies are put into walkers.)
WHY ARE BABY WALKERS SO POPULAR?
In part, because they have been around for a very long time. Some sources say that walkers were already being used back in the 17th century. It is also commonly believed that a walker, since it helps maintain an upright position and allows the child to move forward, helps babies learn to walk.
Among other reasons frequently mentioned by parents, are claims that they make the development process easier, keep the baby busy, provide lots of fun, help with walking, and encourage mobility. Many parents also think that using a walker is a type of exercise that the child simply needs.
WHERE’S THE TRUTH? WHAT DO I THINK AS A PHYSIOTHERAPIST? 😉
As I mentioned before, analyzing proper child development should give us some clues. Of course, some children who use walkers will do great. Many of us most certainly used them as children without any “side effects” that have hindered our everyday functioning. Nevertheless, I am somehow not convinced. As a physiotherapist – and also as a mom – I say a definite NO to baby walkers.
WHY I DON’T USE A BABY WALKER?
Maybe it will surprise you, but I am not going to talk about the extra strain this equipment puts on the spine, or even the harmful effects it has on the developing feet.
My #1 reason for opposing walkers is that they simply do not teach babies how to be careful and stay focused.
Can you see the difference??? 😉
When putting a baby in a walker, we create the illusion that we are giving our child some kind of “protective cushion”. We seem to think that he or she is not ever going to stumble or fall over. As a result, the baby is unlikely to experience the consequences of careless behavior. In a walker, he or she will simply push off with the feet (without much control) and just move in the desired direction. Suddenly, all of the places and objects which were previously inaccessible become possible to reach! No wonder the baby enjoys it! This is perfectly normal!
But is that really why we, as parents, are so enamored with these things??? Maybe the truth is that we often just want to have a moment of peace and quiet… Everyone should answer this question for themselves; I can only speak for myself. 😉 Obviously, there are moments when I have had enough. But, overall, my kids bring me joy; and I like spending time with them. I don’t feel the need to occupy them with “something” just to be able to take a break.
No doubt, the most important issue to consider here is proper child development. The best place for a baby to train is a flat, fairly hard and challenging surface. It should be a place where the little one has a chance to test his or her capabilities – and face the consequences of sometimes careless behavior (in safety, of course). It might seem irrelevant at first, but providing such a setting for your child from the very beginning will make your lives much easier in the future. 😉
Obviously, a baby has to be exposed to a variety of environments and conditions; but seeing a 3-month-old baby in a walker really makes me sick…
If you read my posts regularly, you may have noticed that I often emphasize a certain “right order” for proper child development. A baby should first learn to control his or her head, then the shoulder girdle together with the torso, and then finally the pelvis and the legs.
Most of the time, babies achieve head control around 3-4 months of age. It usually coincides with their ability to symmetrically prop up on their forearms.
Babies have shoulder stability when can see them supporting themselves on straightened arms while lying on the tummy. In this position, the pelvis rests on the ground while the chest and torso are raised. Babies’ eyes are set horizontally (parallel to the floor), and the ears are positioned far from the shoulders. This happens around month six.
The development of torso stability is an ongoing process. You know you have a baby with a stable torso when the baby starts reaching out for toys without invoking a substantial reaction from the entire body.
Pelvic stability is something babies work on from the very first months of life. However, they work on mastering it throughout the entire developmental period. Babies train their pelvis not only when they lift it up while lying on their back, but also around 5 to 6 months of age when they make so-called “bridges” or try to roll over. A great time to improve pelvic control is when babies try to keep an upright position, and when they learn how to walk. I am not only talking about walking forward, but also cruising – which is stepping sideways while holding on to furniture. Can a child do this in a walker? Absolutely not!!!
Parents are often afraid to put their baby in a sitting position before their child knows how to sit by themselves. On the other hand, many do not see a problem with using a walker. They do not realize that putting a child in a walker is much more damaging for the spine and pelvis! Food for thought… 🙂
And, of course, there are the feet… This is my area of expertise, and I am really into this topic – to say the least. 🙂 In a walker, babies don’t move their feet properly – a movement which entails rolling them from the heel towards the toes. A baby moves forward in a walker using only his or her toes. This does not support proper foot development! You have to keep in mind that a child’s feet start to get ready for walking long before the baby is able to stand up. A wide range of activities prepare children for that important milestone. At 6-7 months of age, babies start to roll over along their navel axis, play while lying on their sides, crawl, get up by pushing away with one foot, balance their bodies, start cruising, squatting, and getting up. All of this makes the feet work in various ways and on different levels. As a result, the feet “learn” how to become stable. Is it possible for babies to achieve all that in a walker? I doubt it. 😕
Of course, there are other issues that should be approached individually; such as torso stability. If a baby has poor postural control, putting the child in a walker can be particularly harmful. The arms and legs might have a tendency to stiffen, the baby might clench his or her hands into fists more often, or the child might position the feet in plantar flexion (as when walking on the toes). Moreover, the baby gets excited in a walker which works to reinforce the above mentioned undesirable bodily responses.
I am not going to discuss the accidents that happen to children while using walkers – you can check out the research yourself, but I can readily imagine many other kinds of accidents that might occur.
Last but not least, I do not like spending money or cluttering my home with items that I am not convinced are useful. Why not spend the same money on a new pair of shoes? Great excuse, isn’t it? 😉
WHAT’S THE RUSH???
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get the impression that there is some kind of odd pressure put on babies to reach certain milestones as soon as possible. If an infant does not fall within some developmental minimum, some parents feel compelled to do everything possible to speed things along.
Does faster mean better???
Well, if you’re taking part in a race, then it certainly does! But is child development a race??? Of course not! At first, it might seem to be extremely important for your baby to take his or her first steps before turning one-year-old. In reality, everyone will soon forget about this milestone. Parents will face new challenges such as kindergarten, school, etc. Before you know it, your “little one” will be going off to college (thank God, this is not my situation just yet). 🙂
This post was supposed to be short; but, as usual, it turned out otherwise. Let me know if you made it to the end. All said, I still have the impression that I have not covered this topic completely. 😊
For great ideas for spending time and playing with your baby, check out my E-book:
E-book: A COLLECTION OF IDEAS FOR THE MOST FUN PLAYTIME WITH YOUR CHILD
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- Burrows, P., Griffiths, P. (2002). “Do Baby Walkers Delay Onset of Walking in Young Children?” British Journal of Community Nursing. vol. 7(11): pgs. 581-586.