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Baby Walkers: To Buy or Not to Buy?

Walk Softly

You wouldn’t let your 5-month-old drive a car? Of course not. Just like you wouldn’t use a baby product the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) wants banned, right? Infant walkers are a popular baby item, yet the AAP equates putting your toddler in a walker to setting him behind the wheel of your car. Not a pretty picture. When you put toddlers in control, the results can be disastrous and even deadly.

Several years ago, while browsing the aisles at my local baby superstore after the birth of my second daughter, I found a whole aisle devoted to baby walkers. And I bought one. At the time, I had heard about some safety concerns with walkers and children sustaining injuries from spills down stairs. But since my apartment didn’t have any stairs, I assumed my daughter would be safe. Today, you’ll still find plenty of walkers for sale at baby retailers.

Fortunately, my baby never had any injuries from her walker use, but with so many alternatives to walkers now on the market you may want to think twice before you buy. Consider these common questions about walkers—and the startling answers.

A lot of my friends use walkers for their babies—aren’t they popular?

It’s true. Baby walkers are a popular product. According to Pediatrics: The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, studies have found anywhere from 52 to 92 percent of parents use walkers.

Walkers, made out of metal framing with a fabric-covered chair, suspend babies, ages four months to 18 months, so that their toes can touch the floor. Often walkers sport fun fabrics, trays that fit to the chair, and even musical activity centers to entertain babies while they scoot around the room.

A study in Injury Prevention (September, 2001) reported that the predominant reason many mothers purchased walkers was because they thought it would be “entertaining” for their children. Other reasons are not surprising: Many of the mothers had received a walker as a gift. Some mothers believed it would help teach toddlers to walk. And like me, 4.7 percent believed that “the home environment was safe for baby walker use because there are no stairs in the home.”

Why are walkers so dangerous?

“Walkers allow children, many of whom are not yet crawling or walking, to be mobile,” explains Bridget Clementi, Injury Prevention Manager at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. In other words, the walker lets your carefree baby explore a world in which she does not yet fully appreciate the dangers. Once mobile, she might be able to touch a hot oven, reach housecleaners, pull at electricity cords, or even plunge down stairs.

Many parents think walkers help baby learn how to walk, but this isn’t true. Despite the name “walker,” many reputable sources, including the AAP, confirm that “Walkers do not help a child learn to walk; indeed, they can delay normal motor and mental development.”

In 2005, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) found 3,331 incidents of children receiving treatment in the emergency room for injuries from walkers. “The majority of the injuries with walkers are to the head from falls,” says Angela Mickalide, the director of Education and Outreach for the Home Safety Council. Other injuries stem from burns, poisonings, and pinched toes or fingers. “Many parents might be surprised to know that walkers are associated with drowning,” continues Mickalide. “The child can get through an open patio door and then fall into the family pool. It can happen in a matter of seconds.”

Indeed, the AAP reports that a child in a walker “can move more than three feet in one second.” Even the most attentive parent may find it difficult to prevent a child from quickly getting into dangerous situations.

If walkers are so dangerous, why aren’t they banned?

Although walkers top the list of most dangerous baby products at several child safety advocacy groups, such as Kids In Danger, a non-profit group dedicated to improving children’s product safety, they haven’t been banned in the US. However, the AAP has been appealing to the US government for a ban since 1995, and walkers have been banned in Canada since 2004.

If I want to buy a walker how can I find a safe one?

Look for the JPMA (Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association) seal on the package. In 1997, in response to numerous reports of injuries and deaths, many manufacturers adopted extra safety measures in their baby walker designs. For example, walkers must be wider than 36 inches so that they cannot go through doorways. Another feature makes the walker brake, or stop, if one or more of the wheels is not on the same level surface as the other wheels, such as at the top of the stairs.

Remember that these standards are voluntary. Injury Prevention journal reported in 2001 that “The manufacturers most likely to comply with the revised voluntary standard are members of the JPMA; however, nearly 40 percent of the new baby walkers sold in the United States are manufactured by firms that do not belong to the JPMA.”

Keep in mind that many children sustain injuries in their walkers even when their parents are present. Pediatrics (September, 2001) cited a study that found “78 percent of the children were being supervised at the time of the injury.” Parents are often lulled into a sense of security when their children are in walkers, explains Clementi. “Caregiver supervision is lower because they are amused by the child’s actions and believe that possible dangers are out of reach.”

Are there any alternatives to baby walkers?

Yes. The AAP recommends several including stationary play centers, play pens, and high chairs.

Special note: While you might take lengths to ensure your baby’s safety when he’s in your care, make sure that caregivers and friends know your preference on using baby walkers. If you don’t want your child to use one, check that your daycare provider or other caregivers don’t either.

With plenty of safety concerns with their use, baby walkers are one product you may want to avoid.

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