Baby Walkers: Do They Really Help? And Are They Really Safe?

Parents of babies are often confused by conflicting information regarding the use of Baby Walkers.

Anyone with babies of crawling age would be all too familiar with the demands they place on you. It is certainly a very appealing thought to be able to put them into a device that allows them to be stimulated and mobile without having to hold them yourself, so that you can attend to all of the jobs around the house that come with having a young family.

However, the questions have been posed:

  1.  Are baby walkers safe? 
  2.  Do they really help?

Concerned parents in Adelaide may seek the advice of a chiropractor as to whether they should place their kids in a baby walker. Most Adelaide chiropractors who provide chiropractic care for children are generally not in favour of their use, and as it turns out, we aren’t alone in our concerns.

A UK medical hospital in Shetland sought to address these questions in 2014. Some of the points raised in their review were base don the fact that in 2004, Health Authorities in Canada banned the sale of baby walkers completely, and calls had been made for the UK to follow suit. Health Canada collected data from 16 hospitals across the country and discovered that between 1990 and 2002 more than 1,900 babies aged five to 14 months suffered baby walker injuries including falling down stairs, flipping over, reaching dangerous objects, such as household poisons or hot drinks and crashing into heaters or hot stoves.

The NHS sought to address 4 common myths and truths regarding their use.

Myth 1 – A baby walker is a safe place to put my baby for a few minutes

The Truth:
Putting a baby in a baby walker is like giving a teenager a Ferrari – a dangerous risk.

A child in a baby walker needs much greater attention and supervision than if they weren’t in one.

Statistics show that over 40% of children who use a baby walker end up getting hurt (Estimated 4,000 injuries per year in the UK).

They allow babies to move very quickly and raise them to a height where they can reach for hazardous items such as knives or hot drinks.

A Welsh burns unit revealed that 25% of babies aged 6-12 months in hospital with burns and scalds had been in a baby walker.

Myth 2 – Using a baby walker will help my baby to learn to walk

The Truth:
A paper in the British Medical journal showed that baby walker use was not associated with achieving sitting or standing, and there are strong links between the amount of baby walker use and the extent of developmental delay.

If you added up the time your baby is in its walker, each time it adds up to 24 hours, your baby is likely to be another 3 days later learning to walk and nearly 4 days later learning to stand.

Because the walker holds them upright, the child does not learn the proper balance skills needed for walking.

Myth 3 – Using a baby walker will help my baby’s development

The Truth:
Evidence showed that babies who used a walker sat, crawled and walked later than those that didn’t and also scored lower on the Bayley Assessment which looks at a child’s mental development and language development as well as Motor skills.

Baby walkers hinder or in severe cases, prevent the child from crawling and keep the child in an upright position which interferes with the natural brain development of the child.

The brain works in a criss-cross pattern with the left brain controlling the right arm and leg and the right brain controlling the left arm and leg.
Crawling is an essential activity in encouraging this criss-cross pattern in the brain to develop.

In a walker, babies lose opportunities to learn important motor and perceptual skills such as distance and depth, and key concepts such as in/out and on/under.

Myth 4 – Using a baby walker will strengthen my baby’s legs

The Truth:
Baby walkers interfere with the natural stance of the child and can teach the hips and knees to take weight in an abnormal position – this in turn can lead to long term changes to child’s walking pattern and can sometimes cause long term hip problems.

Baby walkers teach children to scoot along the floor using their toes and this strengthens the wrong muscles in the legs. This can have a big impact on balance and on general muscle and joint development, including long term foot and ankle problems.

The Advice given by the NHS Publication was that given enough encouragement and time to develop the muscle strength and balance, all babies will walk when they are ready to (usually between 9-18 months). Time in a baby walker takes away time from activities that produce the real readiness for

Parents are urged to encourage “Tummy Time” as much as possible – we advise that baby’s should sleep on their backs and play on their fronts. Tummy time is the basic building block for all motor skills and a lack of this can have a huge knock on effect.

If you have laminate flooring, then put a large rug or non-slip mat on the floor so that your baby has some grip when they learn to crawl and walk.
Consider getting a stable push-type baby walker when they can stand on their own. If you have laminate floors, it is a good idea to put baby shoes on or keep them in bare feet so they have better grip.

If you do decide to use a baby walker:

  1. Please limit use to 10 minutes a day
  2. Ensure that your baby is very closely supervised at all times
  3. Ensure that the walker is low enough that your baby can place both feet completely flat on the floor. If only their toes can touch the floor, please don’t use it until your baby grows a bit more.

Historically, Adelaide Chiropractors advice on this matter is consistent with this review circulated by the National Health Service of the UK. We urge parents to consider whether they really need to place their babies in a walker, and to exercise adequate caution in doing so. We also suggest that they consider the developmental implications on their child, as learning to walk and stand is such a crucial developmental window that may have consequences in the future if it does not progress normally.

If you want to explore this issue further, please speak to your Adelaide chiropractor for some sensible advice. They can even check your child for any evidence of distortion in their musculoskeletal development if you have any concerns.

Siegel, A. And Burton, R (1999) Effects of Baby Walkers on Motor and Mental Development in Human Infants Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics
Garrett, M., McElroy, A. And Staines, A (2002) Locomotor milestones and babywalkers: Cross sectional study British Medical Journal
Chartered Society of Physiotherapy Campaign 2005
Child Accident Prevention Trust – Baby walkers factsheet
Bayley Assessment —