Babies between 6 and 12 months just want to get up and go. The urge to move themselves across the room is so powerful and the frustration that it creates can be heartbreaking to watch. Baby walkers often result in squeals of delight when your baby realizes the dream of motion. Baby walkers can happily entertain your baby for hours on end, but they require your constant attention.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has deemed baby walkers unsafe and strongly urges parents not to use them. The AAP has even asked for a call to ban the manufacture and sale of baby walkers with wheels. Millions of infant walkers are sold each year regardless of the AAP's warnings. Parents will continue to use them, so it is important to use baby walkers safely.
Baby walkers are seats on wheels. Your baby sits in the center of the walker, strapped into a plastic molded seat. A tray surrounds your baby and acts like a bumper when your baby moves close to a wall or a piece of furniture. If you want to buy a baby walker, stay away from secondhand models. These do not meet current safety regulations. Many older walkers are collapsible. Years of use weaken the joints and latches on older walkers and it could collapse while your baby is in it.
Make sure that you choose a newer model that meets new voluntary safety standards. Baby walkers should have a wide base to prevent them tipping over and so they can't fit through doorways. They should also have a braking mechanism that prevents the walker from moving if one or more wheels come off of the ground.
Many parents believe that walkers will help their baby learn to walk. Walkers tend to interfere with learning to walk. Babies can get around too easily in a walker. This satisfies their need to move from point A to point B and decreases their desire to crawl, scoot on their bums, or cruise furniture. These are important stages for developing strength and coordination.
Walkers also strengthen the wrong muscles. The lower legs are strengthened, but the upper legs and hips don't have to work as hard and become weak. The upper leg and hip flexor muscles are important for walking. A baby walker may not delay how quickly your baby learns to walk, but there is no proof showing that it will help your baby learn to walk sooner either.
The main problems lie with injuries. Babies using walkers are injured more than babies who don't use walkers. Injuries include those from falling down stairs, pinched fingers and toes, burns, poisonings, and drowning. Walkers often tip over when a baby bumps into a toy or tries to roll over the edge of a rug.
The walker itself may not be dangerous—the walker isn't going to burn your baby. Walkers make your baby more mobile and mobility at a young age causes injury, especially if your house isn't well childproofed. The ability to move around increases the likelihood of knocking over your hot cup of coffee, pulling a hot pot off of the stove, or grabbing something poisonous out of a cabinet.
If your baby wants to be upright and moving around, consider a stationary or rocking exersaucer. Exersaucers look like walkers without the wheels. Your baby sits upright in the center and can bounce, rock, and spin. Exersaucers do not move, but your baby can practice the movements of walking and spin around to play with toys, making them safe and developmentally appropriate.
Older babies enjoy sturdy push-cars or activity centers. Most have a bar your baby can hold onto when pushing it around. Push toys have wide, sturdy bases so they won't tip over. These will help your baby strengthen the right muscles and satisfy the urge to walk—but you still have to be very careful about stairs.
If you still want to use a baby walker, you must childproof your home. Most importantly, you must supervise your baby at all times. Keep the walker away from stairs. Never use a walker near a pool and stay away from parts of your home that are not childproofed.Before putting your baby in a walker, make sure your house is ready:
- place covers on electrical outlets and secure latches on all drawers and cabinets.
- move all household cleaners, chemicals, and medicines completely out of reach.
- remove furniture with sharp edges or cover the edges with soft protectors.
- remove heavy or fragile items from tables and shelves.
- keep your baby away from stoves, heaters or other hot appliances, especially curling irons.
- do not carry hot liquids or food near your child.
- lock all rooms that are not childproofed.
- keep all exterior doors of your house locked.
- place gates or other barricades across all stairwells.