Some people believe that baby walkers are useful for their babies, to entertain them and help teach them to walk. This, however, is not true. Baby walkers can be dangerous and can actually delay your baby’s walking development.
How does a baby learn to walk?
Most babies pass the following milestones while learning to walk:
- rolling on the floor
- crawling, creeping or scooting
- pulling themselves up to stand
- moving around furniture or other stationary objects
This means that babies need to spend plenty of time on the floor, learning and practising these activities.
Baby walkers do not help
Baby walkers don’t help a baby develop their walking. In fact, walkers can impede or delay your baby achieving these important milestones. The more time babies spend in a walker, the more delay they experience.
Why do walkers delay locomotive (walking) development?
Walkers take your baby’s time away from the floor so they miss out on practising important, repetitive movements needed for them to reach their walking milestones.
Babies tend to use their toes when they are in a walker, which tightens their leg muscles and interferes with normal walking development. Once out of the walker, they often want to keep using their toes, which is not how babies usually learn to walk.
When babies sit and pull themselves up, they are learning how to balance. A baby doesn’t balance in a walker, delaying learning this important skill.
Being in a walker also means less time on hands and knees in a crawling or pre-crawling position. This is important to developing weight bearing through both the pelvis and shoulders.
A variety of important movements is needed when babies are developing their walking skills, but they get fewer chances to practise these in a walker than they would on the floor.
Dangers of baby walkers
Baby walkers are considered unsafe because they move very quickly. Your baby is also taller when upright in a walker and can reach things they usually don’t have access to. Potential dangers include:
- falling down steps or stairs
- crashing into something sharp or hard
- tipping over while moving
- being toppled by an older sibling
- accessing electrical cords or cupboards with hazardous substances (e.g. cleaning supplies)
- moving quickly to dangerous areas such as fireplaces, ovens, heaters or pools
- being able to reach hot drinks on tables or other dangerous objects
Each year, many babies are injured in Australia when using walkers. Some sustain serious injuries caused by burns, cuts, head injuries, broken bones, poisoning and drownings; some even die.
Baby walkers are therefore not recommended in Australia.
Safety guidelines for walkers
Although the risks that come with a baby walker seem to be greater than the benefits to your baby, if you do decide to get one, here are some important safety recommendations:
- Ensure that the walker complies with Australian consumer product safety standards.
- Always stay near your baby and be aware that they can move to dangerous places in seconds.
- Make sure the walker can only be used on a flat surface, blocked off from access to steps or stairs.
- Use only in a ‘baby-proofed’ area. This means that your baby can’t move to, or reach, dangerous objects such as electrical cords, hot drinks, cleaning chemicals, fires, heaters, pools or toilets.
- Choose a walker which has a lock, to prevent it moving when you want to, and a braking mechanism.
- Don’t use a walker before your baby can sit, or after your baby can walk.
- Don’t put your baby in a walker for longer than 15 minutes.
Which walkers comply with Australian safety standards?
All walkers sold in Australia must have:
- a braking mechanism to help stop it falling down stairs
- specific labels with clear safety instructions about blocking access to stairs, keeping the baby in view all the time, using only on a flat surface without objects to tip over and keeping away from all objects that could burn
- prior testing to make sure it doesn’t easily tip or topple over
How can I help my baby’s walking development?
Let your baby spend lots of time on the floor. It’s a safe space for your baby to learn to roll, sit and pull themselves up to stand.
You can also place your baby close to soft furniture to help them with pulling-up.
If your baby is moving around, block off a safe area for them to play and move. You can also use a high-quality play pen or stationary activity centre.