Babies who use baby walkers are at risk for serious physical injury as well as mental and developmental delays, according to pediatric studies. Ironically, these delays were even noted in walking.
In a study of 109 babies published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics in October, 2010, babies using the newest walkers learned to sit upright, crawl, and walk later than those who never used walkers or who used old-style walkers that allow seeing the legs.
The large tray used on new-style walkers blocks observation of the legs, denying the visual feedback necessary for learning how to move through space. The tray also prevents the grasping and exploring of objects that are critical to early development.
The unnatural upright movement of the child in the walker may cause overdevelopment of the calf muscles, which can lead to toe walking, while inadequate development may occur in the hips and upper legs.
In addition, on a standard test of mental development, no-walker babies had the highest scores, followed by those who used older, “see-feet” walkers and last by those using new walkers. The study noted that babies using new walkers may also be delayed in the development of memory, learning, and language skills.
Other investigators, say the authors, have found that developmentally-challenged babies, babies born prematurely, and very young babies are especially likely to have balance and alignment problems caused by walkers.
Use of walkers can lead to less desire or time to crawl, an essential element in developing neurological reflexes. Due to the unnatural posture, the Babinski, leg cross flexion, and foot tendon guard reflexes may be delayed in integrating. The ATNR, Bauer crawling, and stepping reflexes also may be delayed due to obstruction of the view of legs and feet.
Besides developmental delays, baby walkers are responsible for more injuries than any other children’s product, according to a 1994 report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Canada went so far as to ban baby walkers in 2004, but in some countries, more than 75% of parents still purchase them.
A major cause of injuries is the speed of the walker. Speed quickly takes the baby out of the caregiver’s range of control, preventing rescue before a collision or encounter with stairs, the swimming pool, sharp objects, dangerous chemicals, or hot appliances. Injuries include head damage, broken bones and teeth, burns, trapped fingers, and even death. Take the dangers of baby walkers into consideration before you make your purchase.