They come in different shapes, sizes, and colors. However, they all have one big thing in common: they are all bad for your child development. I’m talking about bad baby walkers, the ones with the support system which suspends baby’s bottoms in the air. They are marketed to make parents believe they promote walking in kids, when, in fact, they only promote trouble.
Not only do developmental milestones have to be achieved, but they also have to be achieved on time and in the certain sequence. Babies need to roll before sitting, sit before crawling, and crawl before walking. What baby walkers do is they encourage skipping one of the most crucial milestones of our lifetime – the crawling. Most of the time, parents unknowingly put their young babies in the walkers before they can crawl taking the desire to crawl away from babies and thus slowing down the development of eye-hand coordination.
However, even if babies are put in the walkers after they have learned to crawl, they are still at many dangers for developmental delays. Lets name a few:
- The walker visually divides the baby’s body into two parts: the top and the bottom. That confuses the developing brain into not understanding how to operate the invisible lower part, and that leads to proprioceptive problems like inability to figure out the position of joints in space without looking at them.
- The walker, especially with poorly adjusted height, promotes toes reaching for the floor and ambulating on tippy toes. That often leads to toe-walking which may become permanent. (In my practice, since 2005, out of hundreds of kids with a toe-walking problem, I saw only two patients who had underlying causes other than those from the walker use, and the rest were mild to moderate walker users. My first question to every parent of toe-walking kids is always about the use of the walker in the past, and, unfortunately, the answer is always “yes”).
- When babies are placed in a bumpered device, in which they can bump into things around while not learning how to avoid obstacles and balance their bodies, their brains are not forced to learn to balance, and we all know how important balance is in our lives. Kids may later on have problems excelling in sports or just catching up with their peers.
- Believe it or not, the walkers may play a role in diminishing kids’ mental abilities. As research demonstrates, “on a standard test of mental development, no-walker babies had the highest average score, followed by babies who used “see-feet” walkers and those who used newer walkers.”
- Walkers are especially bad for babies already developmentally delayed for different reasons. They most likely will cause boney misalignment and balance problems.
- “An estimated 197200 infant walker-related injuries occurred among children who were younger than 15 months and treated in US emergency departments from 1990 through 2001.” These are very scary statistics that speak for themselves.
With all of these facts known to science, walkers still get to be made and sold everywhere in the US. Interestingly, in 2004, Canada banned the production, import, sale, advertising, trading, or gifting the walkers. Those breaking the law face fines of up to $100,000 or 6 months in prison. The hope is that one day all countries will follow Canada’s example.
As for now, all we can do is get parents educated on the use of the good devices for our kids. The best thing parents can do for their child is allow him/her explore the environment by cruising along furniture and walking while hands are supported by an adult. The next best thing is the use of the good baby walkers resembling adult walkers. They do not restrict the vision, do not promote disbalance, and allow for proper development.
If you ever suspect your child may have developmental delays or other problems, speak to your pediatric physical therapist immediately. We are experts in child development.
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