Aside from being one less thing to spend on, there are many reasons why you should consider not buying the baby a walker anymore. In fact, many health professionals and safety experts advise against walkers for babies including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Here’s why:
1. Walkers won’t help your baby learn how to walk. Despite what the name may imply, walkers don’t do much in teaching your baby how to walk. They can even do the opposite.
“Studies have shown that babies who use a walker may actually learn to walk about a month later than those who don't,” said pediatrician, Dr. David Geller in a column for BabyCenter. “Babies learn to walk in part by watching and understanding how their feet and legs move. If a walker has a tray, they can't see what's happening with their lower body and don't get the information they need about their motor development.”
2. They may even delay development. “Many parents think walkers will help their children learn to walk. But they don't,” said HealthyChildren.org, a resource site for parents run by the AAP. “In fact, walkers can actually delay when a child starts to walk.”
Before they can walk, babies must first learn how to roll, sit, crawl and play on the floor. Placing a baby in a walker before he is physically ready may make it harder and take longer for him to learn how to walk on his own.
“Babies who use walkers learn to crawl, stand and walk later than they would have otherwise, and continue to show delayed motor development for months after they have learned to walk,” said pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene in an article for The New York Times. Why? Because they skip on crucial steps in learning how to walk like pulling oneself upright, he explained. With a walker, babies don't need to do this to move around.
Plus, because walkers make it easier for a baby to get around, they can lessen a child’s desire to walk on his own, said Dr. Jay Hoecker, an emeritus member of the Department of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, in a column for Mayo Clinic.
3. They can cause serious accidents. In 2004, Canada banned walkers from being sold or bought due to the high number of accidents involving babies aged five to 14 months. It’s one of the reasons medical groups like the AAP (who has called for a ban on the manufacture and sale of the baby item in the U.S.) are strongly against them.
“Baby walkers are dangerous because they give babies extra speed, extra height, and access to many hazards,” said BabyCentre UK. Most injuries and accidents happen when the walker tips, falls down the steps or stairs, or bumps into furniture and ovens. Billiard tables, for example, are the right height for a baby to bump his head on while on a walker.
It’s even more dangerous when a parent leaves their baby alone to navigate around the home in a walker, said Dr. Geller. But, a parent watching a baby while he’s in a walker doesn’t prevent injuries either. Reported by Babble, a study published in the journal Pediatrics showed that 78 percent of child accidents on walkers occurred even with adult supervision.
“A child in a walker can move more than three feet in one second,” said the AAP. “Parents or caregivers simply cannot respond quickly enough.”
What to do instead: Babies learn how to walk when they practice on their own. And what you already have at home already provides ample training ground. “A family's own furniture -- as kids cruise from coffee table to couch and from couch to chair -- is plenty to encourage walking,” pediatrician Dr. Ari Brown, a spokeswoman for the AAP and bestselling author, told Parenting. Just make sure you toddler-proof your home!
If you’re looking for a baby walker as a play gear, consider getting your little one a play pen or play yard instead where your baby can have a designated safe place to sit, crawl and waddle around. Stationary activity centers, which look like walkers without the wheels, also make good play gear, said the AAP. They rotate and bounce but do not move around.