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Baby walkers - you may find this useful in making a decision about them.

(2 Posts)
fredtbad Fri 11-Feb-05 00:55:38

Will a baby walker help my baby learn to walk earlier?

Many studies have shown that baby walkers, instead of helping babies learn to walk as many parents hope, are likely to delay a child’s development. There are no studies available that show that baby walkers help babies learn to walk.

When in a walker or door bouncer, babies are suspended in a sling in a position that is neither sitting nor standing and this can cause their leg position to be asymmetrical. The use of this equipment use does not allow the baby to practice the natural development of body control that they learn by being placed on the floor. The muscles used to propel a walker are different than the muscles and co-ordination needed to walk independently. This equipment also encourages babies to walk up on their toes, often getting tight heel and leg muscles. They therefore do not strengthen the muscles groups needed for sitting, crawling and walking and this may delay these skills from developing.

There is also some evidence that shows that their use can even cause a delay in the baby’s mental development. Walkers restrict the free exploration of the environment and by limiting crawling, babies are unable to explore their surroundings, which helps mental development.

Studies have shown that parents have also used the walkers as ‘passive baby sitters’ and some infants were found to spend long periods of time sat in them.

Door bouncers also encourage bouncing on the toes and arching of the back, they are therefore not recommended for the same reasons as baby walkers.

Premature babies, because they miss out on the final stages of pregnancy when they would curl up in the mother’s womb, already have a tendency to learn to move by arching their backs and strongly pushing on stiff legs. There is a difference between the strength of the muscles that curl them up and those that stretch them out. Babies need a balance between the bending muscles and the pushing muscles to coordinate and develop movement. If infants born prematurely use walkers and door bouncers this further develops the pushing arching groups of muscles making them stiffer and can delay them learning to sit, crawl, walk and begin to use their hands to play.

Are they safe to use?
Walkers in effect turn a young baby into a toddler before the child is developmentally ready. An example of this that has been quoted is that it is rather like putting a 12-year-old child behind the wheel of a car. The child will be able to reach all the pedals but won’t have the capacity to drive appropriately or safely.

Babies are also not built for upright mobility too early. They are top heavy, their heads being bigger than their bodies, and so it is very easy for them to tip over by leaning over the side of the walker.

Tests have shown that a child can move at 4 feet in one second in a baby walker. Infants can then reach objects such as scalding hot cup of coffee before you can get there.

Baby walkers have been long recognised as a major cause of accidental injury both in the United States of America, Canada and Europe. In fact parts of Europe baby walkers have been banned since the early 1980’s.

In 1994 the US Consumer Product Safety Commission stated that baby walkers were responsible for 23,000 emergency room visits annually with 1,000 of those requiring admission to hospital. The most common injuries are head injuries from babies falling down stairs or tipping over. In 1995 more than 20,000 babies were hurt whilst using one and between 1989 and 1993 there were 11 deaths attributed to walkers. Most of these accidents happened whilst adults were watching.

In July 1997, the United States of America joined Canada in the implementation of new safety standards for baby walkers. In the USA they are now made wider so that they cannot fit through doorways and have a protective bar which can stop them tipping over the edge of a step. This reduced the accident rate but in 2001, four years later, nearly 9,000 injuries still occurred.

Canada has now banned the manufacture and use of walkers and in 2001 the American Academy of Paediatrics released a new policy statement saying there was no such thing as a safe baby walker and called for a ban on their use. They have not yet been successful in convincing their government. In California baby walkers are banned in day care, Pre- School and child care centres since 1996.

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy wrote to the public health minister Tessa Jowell and Nigel Griffiths, the consumer affairs minister back in 1997 expressing its concern regarding the risks to babies’ development and the increased accident rate in the UK from the use of baby walkers. They called for the Government to introduce similar standards to those enforced by the United States to be enforced in this country. In 1997 there were 5000 baby walker related accidents in the UK. They also highlighted the need for more research in this area, and if evidence was found then the need to consider banning their use in the UK. Since then they have continued to lobby Government but to date no action has taken place.

What do we suggest instead?
There are many enjoyable activities that can be enjoyed with your baby. The most important thing is to offer them a wide variety of activities and positions in which to play not only to help balance their muscle development to help with movement development but to offer a wider experience to help the infants mental development.

Floor play is the most fun and enjoyable. Here your baby can practice and learn all the components of movement that will go towards learning to roll, sit, crawl, pull up to stand and cruise along the furniture. If you are worried about your baby’s safety, then using a playpen will create a great safety zone and the baby can still explore and enjoy movement.

Once your baby has learned to sit independently high chairs are another alternative for children - they can sit and play with toys on a tray in front of them and learn to be more skilful in using their hands.

It is now possible to buy stationary standing frames that have no wheels but the seats rotate round in a circle and the child can play with toys that are attached to them. These can be used for short spells if your child can already sit up without help and is placed in it standing straight with both feet flat on the floor.

fredtbad - I did use one for both my kids, even though I knew the above. No harm done, however my kids never really spent much time in them, were supervised, their feet always reached the floor and it was so hard to push that they never got the chance to scoot. I agree with the standing frame use idea.

Gwenick Fri 11-Feb-05 00:59:33

DS1 never used a walker but used a door bouncer a LOT - he was a late walker - but then he did everyhing late just his nature I guess.

DS2 used a walker at the 3 toddler groups I attended with him and also used the door bouncer a lot - he walked at 10 months..........

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