New parents make many decisions about what to buy for their child during her first year of life. With so many choices, such decision-making is often overwhelming. Always be sure to first evaluate the item with your child's safety in mind.
Baby walkers are just one of many items parents consider using. However, baby walkers are responsible for thousands of injuries each year and have even caused deaths. Therefore, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that baby walkers NOT be used.
What are baby walkers?
Baby walkers, also called infant walkers, are designed for children who are sitting up, but not yet walking on their own. Although available in many different designs, most walkers consist of a rigid frame set upon a wheeled base, which allows the infant to be more mobile. Within the rigid frame is a fabric seat that supports the child's body weight, but allows the child's feet to be in contact with the floor. Thus, the child can move about freely without a parent's help.
The prices of walkers vary greatly, as walkers tend to have different features, such as plastic trays, bouncing mechanisms and built-in play stations.
Why use them?
Despite recommendations not to use them, more than 3 million baby walkers are still sold each year, mostly for children younger than 15 months of age. Some parents think walkers will help their child learn to walk sooner. Other parents think that walkers will keep their child safely occupied while they are free to do other activities. Both of these reasons are untrue, and your child may not be safe in a walker.
Are there any risks?
Baby walkers have been responsible for the deaths of at least 34 children since 1973 and have led to more than 70,000 injuries requiring emergency-room treatment. These injury rates are higher than those associated with any other piece of baby equipment. In reaction to these tragic statistics, the American Academy of Pediatrics is working to ban the sale of baby walkers with wheels. In the meantime, parents are urged not to purchase or use baby walkers. (In April 2004, Canada banned the sale of new and used wheeled baby walkers.)
These seemingly safe items have many hidden dangers. For example, while your baby is strapped in, walkers can:
Tip over or collapse (particularly older models)
Tumble down stairs
Fall into water
Fall off decks or patios
Gather speed quickly, able to move up to three feet in one second
Knock over baby gates
Make it easier for your child to reach hazardous objects
These accidents can lead to broken bones and, even worse, head injury or death. In addition, walkers give the child access to many home hazards, which can result in poisoning, choking or burns.
Are other options available?
Your best bet is to err on the safe side and avoid walkers altogether. Although manufacturers have tried to improve the design with wheel locks, wider bases that do not fit through doorways, and other safety precautions, these devices are still dangerous because they allow children to move at fast speeds and to reach higher objects that are potentially hazardous. In 2002, there were almost 10,000 walker-related injuries involving children under age 15 months.
Other options are available to keep your child occupied and safe, including walker-like designs that do not have wheels (called stationary walkers or exercise saucers), bouncer seats (for younger children) and even old-fashioned playpens and high chairs. These items still allow your child to be interactive and learn new skills, but they provide a safer environment in which your baby's development can thrive.
If, despite the warnings, you choose to use a walker, it is vital that you never leave your child unattended in one — not even for a brief moment. And always block off stairs or other structural hazards in your home. Remember that this precaution does not guarantee your child will be safe because babies in walkers can travel at high enough speeds to knock over gates.
The bottom line is baby walkers are dangerous. Keeping the safety of your baby as your most important concern, it is best NOT to ever use baby walkers.