Infant walkers, those wheeled contraptions that give babies who can’t yet walk the sudden ability to walk, are bad. This has been long established. But parents keep using them and so paediatricians are renewing the call for a ban.
What can be so wrong with the seemingly ubiquitous baby product, you ask? Shouldn’t we be helping our adorable immobile blobs manoeuvre through the world? BBC Dad put his tot in an infant walker. Your parents may have plopped you in one as well. (I’ve seen old photos of baby me in this classic yellow model from the ‘80s.)
Babies seem happy in them! And mums and dads appreciate how they restrain and distract their little wigglers, giving them a couple of extra minutes to brush their teeth or throw some pasta into a pot.
There are at least a couple of major concerns.
First, infant walkers can lead to serious acute injuries. According to a study published this week in Pediatrics and reported by NPR, “more than 230,000 children under 15 months old were treated in US hospital emergency departments for skull fractures, concussions, broken bones and other injuries related to infant walkers from 1990 through 2014.” Eight babies died in the US from 2004 to 2008 due to injuries sustained from baby walkers, one investigation found.
While companies have made walkers safer over the years, adding features such as wheel locks, doctors still say they give parents a false sense of security — when juggling multiple kids and other responsibilities, they may not notice a child toddling into unsafe areas, such as kitchens with hot stoves, swimming pools and stairways.
There’s also the fact that infant walkers don’t actually help babies learn how to walk — and according to some paediatric therapists, they can even delay this milestone. You see, the thing about babies is that they do things when they do them. Their bodies need to the space to explore freely for proper gross motor development.
Placing them in unnatural positions, especially for extended periods of time, can lead to poor posturing, hinder them from developing a sense of balance control and distribute their weight unevenly. The concern applies to not just walkers but also exersaucers, Bumbo chairs and jumpers.
What seems to be a decent alternative? Learning tables. Or simply place some engaging, non-electronic toys on the floor; create some safety barriers; and let your infants try to prop themselves up if they feel ready for it. They’ll learn how to walk in their own time. And if you have concerns, turn to your paediatrician, not a piece of gear.