Friday, June 29, 2012

A Piece of Equipment I Will Never Recommend

Parents seem eager to get their babies up and walking. So much so that there is a whole market in devices designed to do just that. Baby walkers have gained in popularity and many families use them instead of a playpen or baby yard. But baby walkers have more drawbacks than benefits.
Baby walkers are dangerous. Both in themselves and because they give baby access to things they should not be able to reach. Around 15,000 (yes thousand) babies go to hospital related to using a baby walker and a few have died. Some have fallen downstairs or caught themselves on the walker. Others have pulled down cups of coffee or pulled on electric cords.  Babies who cannot walk are not mentally ready to walk and should not be in that position. The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a warning against walkers and Canada has banned them.
Contrary to what you would think, being in a walker does not help a typical baby walk sooner.  First of all, the walker holds them upright and they do not improve their balance while in a walker. Secondly, the foot pattern for moving the walker is different from that for walking. Some studies have demonstrated that babies who spend time in walkers are, on average, 3 weeks behind those who are not. In my practice, I have seen several babies qualify for services because they were delayed in motor skills. When the walker was removed, they quickly picked up the skills. Babies need to spend time moving around on the floor by themselves and standing at the furniture by themselves to develop the skills needed for walking. While walkers do not prevent typical development, for many babies they do slow it down.
Baby walkers are big pieces of equipment. Even the manufacturers suggest that a baby not use a walker until they can stand at furniture by themselves. It is recommended that babies spend no more than 15 minutes at a time and no more than 2 sessions a day in a walker. This is a costly and space consuming piece of equipment for such short use. By the time a baby stands at the furniture, it won’t be long before she is walking independently and the walker will be of no use anyway.
Bouncers and stationary standers do not move around and many of the safety issues can be avoided. These do have activities to keep baby entertained while mom is cooking, without letting baby move around.  Play yards have the advantage of allowing the baby to move independently and to have the activities changed by changing the available toys.  Play yards (Play pens) take up more space than standers. Babies should not spend extended amounts of time in any of these pieces of equipment but there are times when you need a safe place to keep baby entertained for a few minutes. Walkers are not the answer.

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