Baby walkers are trendy devices for infants who have not yet started walking. We may not remember having used a baby walker, but many of us have used one of these as a toddler.
Despite their popularity among many parents, these contraptions are not well-liked by the experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Studies and statistics suggest that baby walkers cause harm and injury, without any tangible benefits.
So if you are planning to buy a baby walker to teach your kid how to walk faster, think again. Read on to find why.
Baby Walker Basics
A walker is used for babies who have not yet started walking. They are used for keeping the baby occupied and with the aim of encouraging his/her mobility and leg movements.
There is a misconception among many that a baby walker can help a baby start walking earlier. But according to pediatric experts, the opposite may be true.
You cannot simply put an infant on a baby walker. The child should have passed several stages of development before using this product.
For starters, the infant should have the capacity to hold its head up steadily and be able to keep his/her feet on the ground. And they are unsuitable for kids who have already started walking. The ideal age is probably between 4 - 16 months.
3. Potential Risks
There are injury risks associated with the use of baby walkers. Collapsing hinges on these walkers can cause serious injury to the fingers and toes of the baby. A more frequent cause of injury is the increased reach and mobility the walker gives to a baby.
The child will be able to reach out and touch dangerous objects. They can also fall down stairs or into pools if they are left unsupervised.
Even when under the watch of the parents, the increased movement speed of walkers can lead to unavoidable accidents. It is estimated that thousands of infants get injured every year from using the baby walker in the US alone.
4. Stunting Development
Contrary to popular belief, these walkers do not help speed up the development of walking ability in toddlers. In fact, a 1999 study by A C Siegel at Case Western University found that children who used baby walkers started walking on their own later than regular kids.
Another study in 2002, by McElroy and Staines in the British Medical Journal concluded that every 24 hours a child spends on a baby walker slows down its development of walking skills by 3-4 days.
5. Underlying Probable Causes
Development of motor skills in infants has a set pattern and path. When your child is using a baby walker, it disrupts these processes. Many vital factors get bypassed.
The child is deprived of key inputs that help it develop balance and motor skills. For example, the baby walker blocks the view of feet, which is a crucial feedback for the development of early walking ability.
And since babies can naturally move and crawl without a walker, the addition of this device has no demonstrable benefits. The increased movement speed only serves to increase chances of injury.
Alternatives To Baby Walkers
So, the experts and doctors are vocal in their opposition of babies using these walkers. And if that isn't damning enough, these baby walkers are banned by law north of the border in Canada.
Parents found using these walkers for their babies can face stiff fines. So, it begs the question: are there any safe alternatives to baby walkers available in the market?
To be honest, the best thing you can do is let nature take its course, and provide your child with love, nourishment, and proper care. But if you simply must buy something to help your child move around, you can go for the following alternative products.
Just keep in mind that the developmental benefits from these products may be minimal at best. There are no products that can teach your child to walk, or speed up that learning process.
1. The Exersaucer
These look eerily similar to baby walkers, and they only have one significant difference: they do not have wheels. And this fact makes all the difference in the world. There is no more worry about falling.
No more concerns about the kid moving fast towards dangerous things in the room. The Exersaucer keeps your child in one spot. But then what is the benefit, you might ask.
It can keep you baby rooted to the spot, but free to move its arms and legs, and free to bounce, rock, and go up and down. The child cannot gain access to potentially dangerous objects or spots. And this product also requires way less supervision.
2. The Play Pen
This is one concept that has been around for ages: just give your child a safe, enclosed space to move around while you take care of important chores. Playpens are great if you have a very cluttered living space that is impossible to adequately baby-proof.
With this product, the child will also get a chance to play and move around on the floor, like they are supposed to at this age. Though the concept is quite old, if you want to buy a playpen, look for the latest models.
There has been changes and improvements made to the traditional design in recent years. This happened due to changes in the official manufacturing guidelines, with the intention of improving product safety for children.
3. High Chair
There are several clear benefits to using a high chair to keep your child occupied. Like the Exersaucer, this product also prevents the baby from moving around the room.
Beyond that, it also has a very healthy seating position, when considering the body posture of the baby. The seating position helps keep the back straight, with the feet well rested, and thighs parallel to the ground.
But do keep in mind that a high chair should not be used for extended time periods. This can adversely affect the physical and mental development of the infant.
Keeping small children rooted in one spot for a long time will harm their muscle development. So only use these products for those short time periods when you have to take your eyes off them and want them to be safe.
4. Push Car Or Wagon
If you can provide adequate supervision, a pushcart or wagon is a cute toy for an infant learning to stand up. But since this is a movable device, it does have the same limitations and risks associated with baby walkers.
You have to keep an eye on the baby, to make sure that he/she is not heading towards dangers like staircases. The design and quality of the wagon also need to be looked at.
It has to be durable and sturdy enough to handle your kid's weight safely. These wagons or cars are available in various designs, like trucks, fire engines, and model cars.
Walkers And Safety Standards
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has been keeping a close eye on the issue of child safety and risks associated with baby walkers, at least since the early 2000s. They have been working closely with the manufacturers to ensure that the adequate safety features are incorporated into modern walker designs.
One of the main innovations has been the inclusion of a gripping mechanism. This helps keep the baby immobile and helps avoid the event of a walker going down a stairwell.
Another feature would prevent walkers from going through doorways, which can help prevent the child from leaving a room. But not all manufacturers follow these standards.
So What Is the Best Alternative To Such Products?
The truth is, you can help your child learn to walk faster by using a cheaper alternative to products like baby walkers, exersaucers, and wagons. This alternative is extremely safe and simple.
In fact, it is readily available anywhere and everywhere. Are you feeling confused? The best alternative to help your baby walk faster is…..the floor. It is, after all, the natural way: the longer the baby spends on the floor crawling on all fours, the more her muscles and coordination and abilities improve.
There is simply no faster way out there. Crawling and playing around with toys on the floors will do much more than all these fancy wagons and walkers. And this activity also does not pose any risks, as long as you adequately baby-proof the area and keep close supervision.
The importance of crawling has been endorsed by many pediatricians and medical experts. According to them, skipping or skimping on this vital exercise is not good for the healthy development of the baby.
There are several clear-cut reasons why parents should regularly encourage their infants to crawl on the floor, if only for brief periods:
1. Stronger Muscles
Crawling is an activity that engages all the major muscle groups in a baby’s body. It is, after all, an exertion against gravity. The movements and weight-bearing activity work the muscles in the arm, legs, hands, shoulders, and back. This also improves the motor skills and the structure of the spinal column.
2. Improves Vision Skills
To move somewhere, the baby has to use its eye’s to see the goal. Then it has to look at the floor and its own hands. All this involves adjusting the focus of the eyes.
They give an excellent workout to the muscles in the eye. This improves the binocular vision, which is crucial for developing reading and writing skills in the future.
3. Emotional Development
Crawling involves primitive forms of decision making. Each destination is a goal, and some of these attempts succeed while others fail. Moving from one position to another involves taking decisions.
This helps improve the baby’s sense of self-confidence. It also gives the child a sense of autonomy and helps improve its emotional development. The improvements can be accelerated and increased manifold if the parents also spend time with the child during this process.
There is no doubt that opting not to buy a baby walker for your infant has more potential benefits to offer than buying one. But if you must have a device to safely and constructively engage the baby while you do chores, look for an alternative that allows only limited movement, or keeps them mostly immobile.
For a speedy development of walking and advanced motor skills, don't bother at all with buying baby walkers. They will only do more harm. Encouraging your child to crawl is the best way to get him/her to walk faster. If you want to speed it up, spending more time with the baby is the safest and healthiest option out there.