1. Parenting

Should You Buy a Baby Walker?

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Baby in Walker

Parents often look to a walker to help their baby learn to walk, but research has shown that using a baby walker may actually delay walking and other developmental skills.

2013, Getty/T. Radigonda.
A baby in a walker is a classic image of childhood, particularly to my generation and our parents. In fact, I often receive emails from parents and grandparents who are wondering why it's hard to find a classic baby walker to buy for their almost-mobile baby. New safety standards and recommendations have reduced the number of baby walkers purchased and used these days. Here's what you need to know if you're considering buying a baby walker.

Baby Walker Dangers

When your baby is in a walker, he or she sits up higher than normal, and can get to more places at faster speeds. That means your normal childproofing efforts may not be enough to keep baby safe. It's easier to pull things off the counter, reach the stove, or find a way into the tub or toilet when you're up higher. There's also a risk of pinches or bruises from running into things. The extra speed and weight of the walker could allow your baby to knock a baby gate out of the way, too.

Are There Safety Standards for Baby Walkers?

In the U.S., all baby walkers are required to have a braking mechanism to prevent the walker from falling down stairs or other drops. This braking mechanism is supposed to stop the walker from moving if one of the wheels goes off the floor level. Baby walkers also must be made so that they are too wide to fit through a standard doorway. That way babies cannot leave the house in a walker or travel to other rooms where they shouldn't be playing.

Do Walkers Help Babies Learn to Walk?

Many of the parents who have asked me about buying baby walkers want one because they hope it will help their little one learn to walk faster, in a safe way. However, a study published in the AAP magazine Pediatrics showed that babies who used walkers actually learned to sit, crawl and walk later than babies who did not use a walker.The babies who used walkers also had lower mental and motor development test scores. The researchers in that study concluded that "it does not appear that any real benefits of using a walker can be found to balance the considerable risk of injury."

AAP Recommendations

The American Academy of Pediatrics calls baby walkers a dangerous choice. Despite the safety standards requiring the brake mechanism and the wider dimensions, this group still doesn't feel that walkers are safe enough, since babies can still "move fast and reach higher." AAP has asked for a ban on all baby walkers, and says "walkers are never safe to use, even with an adult close by."

But I Still Want a Walker for My Baby!

Since baby walkers that meet current safety standards are still available for sale, ultimately it is your choice whether or not to use one for your baby. If you do choose to buy a baby walker, make sure it is a new one. Do not buy a walker at a garage sale or secondhand shop. A used walker might be missing parts that are necessary for the braking mechanism, or could be subject to an older product recall. Also, don't haul your own 1970s baby walker out of the attic to use for your wee one. A vintage baby walker might have loads of retro-cool style, but it won't meet modern safety standards, which increases the risk of injury to your baby. It may be hard to find a classic baby walker in stores, because they're simply not as popular any more due to the safety warnings. A few companies still manufacture walkers for sale in the U.S., though, and you should be able to order one online if you wish.

While it's important to supervise your baby constantly while using a baby walker, you should know that the increased speed your baby acquires in a walker may mean you can't get there in time to prevent injuries. In fact, AAP says most walker injuries occur while an adult is watching the baby.

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