Parents: Don’t use a baby walker

Claire McCarthy, MD

Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

In Canada, the sale of baby walkers is banned. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) would like the same to be true in the US.

Why? Because baby walkers are dangerous. According to a study in the journal Pediatrics, between 1990 and 2014, more than 230,000 children less than 15 months of age were treated in US emergency departments for injuries related to walkers. The majority of injuries happen when children fall down stairs in a walker, usually injuring their head or neck, sometimes seriously.

But it’s not just stairs that can be a problem. Children in walkers can get their fingers caught, pull things down on themselves, or grab dangerous things (such as sharp objects or hot liquids) that would otherwise be out of their reach. Children can fall out of walkers and get hurt — and have drowned when they scooted into a pool or spa. There have also been injuries from toys attached to a baby walker.

Between 1990 and 2003, baby walker injuries decreased by 84.5%, as voluntary safety standards were instituted, and more families started to buy standers that didn’t move. In 2010 mandatory federal safety standards took effect. Among other things, the standards include measures to help prevent walkers from falling down stairs or tipping over, and to ensure that babies inside them are well-supported and can’t get stuck inside them. The rules also require a parking brake, to keep the walker more stationary, and have standards for the wheels themselves to keep the walkers safer. Even still, in 2014 2,000 toddlers were seen in emergency rooms for injuries due to walkers.

So why would parents use a baby walker?

Some parents buy them because they think that walkers help babies learn to walk faster. However, the opposite is true: using a walker can delay independent walking. That’s because learning to walk isn’t so much about learning to use your legs. It’s more about learning to pull to stand and then balance and take steps without support. When babies are plopped into walkers, they don’t learn any of that. They learn it by being put on the floor with something they can pull up on, like a couch or a caregiver.

The other reason is that babies like them and will play happily in them. This is absolutely true. Starting at around 6 months babies love to be upright — and love to be mobile, so that they can explore and be in the thick of things. However, there are other and safer ways to get babies upright, such as in stationary standers. As for mobility, the inconvenient truth is that not only do babies need to learn mobility by themselves, they need constant supervision as they do. Walkers can give caregivers a false sense of security and make them think that they don’t need to be within arm’s reach of the baby — when not only is that exactly where they need to be, it’s where babies want them to be.

So just say no to a baby walker. It isn’t worth the risk.

Follow me on Twitter @drClaire

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