Do infant walkers help babies learn to walk (and are they safe)?

The pot on the stove is boiling, the phone rings, the doorbell buzzes, the dog goes crazy. And meanwhile, your newly mobile little angel makes a beeline for the spare change you accidentally dropped on the floor, crawling as if her life depends on it. It’s a parent’s biggest struggle at this precious age of newfound freedom—how in the world do you get anything done once your baby becomes mobile?!

If you were to ask your grandmother or even your own mother, she would likely tell you to secure your little ball of energy in a walker. After all, it’s basically a little play station on wheels that gives babies the freedom to roam where they please but keeps them out of trouble, right?

Not exactly. In fact, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), thousands of children are treated for injuries related to walker use each year.  Even more tragic, 34 deaths were reported due to walker-related injuries from 1973 to 1998. Most commonly, babies are injured by falling down the stairs or falling out of the walker, which often leads to head trauma. Other injuries include pinched fingers, reaching up to spill hot liquids causing burns, or even drowning by falling into a pool or tub. In 1997, in response to the high number of injuries, safety standards changed, requiring walkers to be wider than a standard 36-inch door frame. Furthermore, they needed to have a braking mechanism to stop the walker if one or more wheel drops off a flat surface. Despite these changes, a significant number of injuries continued to occur.

Your mom or grandma might also tell you the reason why you were already walking by eight months old is because you spent so much time hanging out in your walker. They will tell you that your little one needs the “practice.” However, data does not support this claim. In fact, some studies suggest that infants who use walkers actually sit, crawl, and walk later than those infants who do not use walkers. And once they do start walking, their gait may be a little abnormal. These effects do not last, but certainly these findings do not support the use of walkers for developmental reasons.

The safety concerns and lack of any developmental benefits prompted the AAP to recommend a ban on the manufacturing and sale of all infant walkers in September 2018. Fortunately, there are safe and effective options to keep your baby safely entertained so you can be hands free. Stationary activity centers are a great alternative to walkers because they provide a seat for your baby to explore toys, swivel around, while all the staying in one spot. Playpens or Pack-and-Plays allow your baby freedom to move around in a contained spot as they learn to sit, pull to a stand and crawl. High chairs can also be used to contain your baby while they play with toys on the tray.

So if you got a walker from grandma for your baby shower and you have been thinking about pulling it out, just throw it away. By being informed and making smart choices, you can keep your little one safe at all times. Despite what grandma might say…

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