Baby walkers are designed to help babies between 5-15 months learn to walk. They consist of a suspended seat surrounded by a rigid frame that is placed on wheels or casters.
The baby is placed in the seat, giving them support while allowing mobility. Baby walkers exploded in popularity in the latter half of the 20th century but have declined in use in recent years due to safety concerns.
Still, when used properly and with supervision, they can provide some benefits. This article will examine the key pros and cons of baby walkers so parents can make an informed decision about using one.
Advantages of Baby Walkers
Encourages Movement and Exploration
One of the main advantages of baby walkers is they encourage babies to move around and explore their environment. The mobility allows them to reach, touch, and play with toys around the house they wouldn’t otherwise be able to access.
This stimulation is important for their development. The rocking/gliding motion when in the walker may also provide soothing sensory input.
Strengthens Leg Muscles
Using a baby walker can help strengthen a baby’s leg muscles as they push against the floor to move around. This can aid in their overall physical development and ability to walk independently in the future.
The act of moving their legs in a walking motion can also reinforce the proper muscle patterns and connections in the brain needed for unassisted walking.
Provides Temporary “Containment”
Another plus side of baby walkers is they provide a way to keep a crawling baby contained and entertained for brief periods of time. This allows the parent or caregiver to focus their attention on other tasks like cooking, cleaning, or taking care of another child. The activity and mobility provided by the walker keeps the baby engaged.
Offers Parents Short Breaks
On a similar note, a baby walker can offer parents and caregivers brief breaks from holding or carrying the baby around. It gives their arms a rest and allows them to sit while still keeping the baby stimulated and active. This can aid in preventing exhaustion that often comes with caring for an infant.
Most baby walkers feature adjustable seat heights that allow you to raise or lower it as needed. This means you can get several months of use out of it as your baby grows and gains leg length. Many models on the market today offer up to 3 different height positions.
Disadvantages of Baby Walkers
Safety Issues and Injuries
One of the biggest drawbacks to baby walkers is they can pose serious safety hazards that may result in injuries. Babies in walkers have been known to tumble down stairs, tip over, or gain enough speed to run into objects and walls.
Walkers can also tip over if used on uneven or soft surfaces. Such accidents often cause head/neck injuries or concussions.
Some child development experts believe routine baby walker use can actually delay a baby learning to walk unassisted. Since the device supports their weight, babies may use movement patterns that differ from true walking.
This can interfere with muscle and brain connections needed for solo walking.
Hinders Floor Play
Baby walkers discourage babies from engaging in beneficial floor play and movement patterns like rolling, crawling, squirming, etc. Floor play helps strengthen core muscles needed for sitting up, standing, and walking. So walkers may promote underdevelopment in this area.
Overuse of baby walkers can promote emotional and physical dependency. A baby can become so accustomed to the constant upright support it provides that they are reluctant or struggle to stand, cruise, or walk without it. Moderation is key.
Can Cause Accidental Damage
Babies in walkers that gain momentum can unintentionally bump into and knock over breakable items like vases, glasses, toys, etc. They may also mar or crash into walls leaving scuffs, paint chips, or holes behind. Supervision is crucial to prevent such damage.
Speaking of supervision, baby walkers always require an adult’s watchful eye to prevent injuries and accidents. You cannot leave a baby unattended in a walker, even for a minute. This means you cannot sit and relax while the baby uses it, creating somewhat of a catch-22 in terms of giving the parent a break.
Safety Tips for Baby Walker Use
If you do choose to use a baby walker, follow these precautions:
- Never leave a baby in a walker unattended, even briefly
- Only use walkers on flat, hard flooring that is free of hazards and debris
- Ensure the walker height allows baby’s toes to touch the floor to move
- Remove walker if baby looks tired, frustrated, or agitated
- Supervise use on stairs – walkers tip easily on inclines
- Inspect for: broken parts, sharp edges, loose screws
- Discontinue use if baby can climb out or shows disinterest
In summary, baby walkers offer both potential developmental benefits and risks. They provide mobility and encourage leg muscle use but can also hinder floor play skills and independent walking.
Ultimately, most child health experts agree baby walkers are acceptable for brief, supervised use only. Moderation is key, as is close parental supervision and attention to safety measures. While convenient at times, walkers are far from necessary and come with tradeoffs.
As with any parenting decision, be informed and follow your instincts on what is right for your unique baby!