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Baby Walkers and Child Development

by Sara Ipatenco

In the past, parents have relied on baby walkers as a way to encourage their children to learn how to walk. However, these walkers aren't as safe as they seem. In fact, they can pose a greater danger than any benefit they might provide. In terms of development, they might help your little one practice walking, but a walker isn't necessary for accomplishing that goal and could actually slow down the whole process, according to AskDrSears.com.

Function and Use

The idea behind walkers is to give your baby a safe way to toddle around the house practicing his walking skills. A walker typically has a seat for your baby to rest in, enclosed by a large plastic frame with wheels on the bottom. Parents slip their children into the seated area so they can propel themselves around the room by putting one foot in front of the other, just like when they walk. Many parents might also use a walker as an entertainment device when they have things to do and can't hold their baby.

Developmental Drawbacks

Though walkers do enable your baby to put one foot in front of the other, they can actually slow down the entire learning-to-walk process. When your baby stands in a walker, it's giving his lower body the ability to be mobile, but his upper body might not be developed enough to take on this skill. Further, it changes your baby's brain processes that help him learn to walk, which can delay normal walking. In fact, according to AskDrSears.com, walkers can also delay the development of other motor skills as well, especially when the walker is used on a regular basis.

Physical Dangers

In addition to causing delays in walking skills, walkers are physically dangerous as well. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that parents skip the walkers altogether because their potential benefits are far outweighed by the risk of injury. When your baby is in a walker, she's at an increased risk for falling down the stairs, burning herself in the kitchen and drowning. She's also more likely to get into things that are potentially poisonous. A 2001 article published in the journal "Pediatrics" reports that in 1999, 8,800 children were treated in emergency rooms for injuries related to the use of walkers, and between 1973 and 1998, 34 children died because of walker-related injuries. Fortunately, new mandates were established after 1999, and that has led to an 88 percent reduction in walker-related injuries and deaths, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Considerations

Allowing your baby to spend a few minutes a day in a walker is fine, according to AskDrSears.com, as long as your monitor your little one closely and don't leave him to his own devices while in the walker. You shouldn't use the walker as a way to teach your child to walk, either, but use it for a few minutes of entertainment instead. Choose your walker with caution, if you do decide to use one. Pass on used ones that might not meet current guidelines for safety. Instead, opt for a new walker, which is more likely to be wide enough to not fit through doorways that lead to stairs and other dangers. New walkers usually have brakes that help prevent them from tipping down the stairs or into a pool. If you want to completely err on the side of caution, skip the walker altogether and opt for a sturdy push toy or stationary entertaining device instead.

About the Author

Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.

Photo Credits

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