September is Baby Safety Month, and Ready, Set, Food! is committed to helping you keep your baby safe inside and outside of the home.
A baby walker looks like an open table and a frame on wheels, with a baby seat suspended inside. But these baby walkers are unsafe for your little one. Today, we’ll cover exactly why baby walkers are unsafe, and alternatives to baby walkers that are safer for baby.
A baby walker looks like an open table and a frame on wheels, with a baby seat suspended inside the table. It’s intended for babies to move around using their feet, while supported by the seat.
But are these baby walkers safe? The answer is a resounding no. And they don’t even help your little one learn to walk.
So, if you’ve bought a baby walker or received one as a gift, it’s time to return it to the store or throw it out. And if you’re taking baby to a daycare or other care location outside the home, make sure it doesn’t have any unsafe walkers.
Today, we’ll cover exactly why baby walkers are unsafe, and alternatives to baby walkers that are safer for your little one.
Baby walkers, including this one, are NOT safe.
Reasons why baby walkers are unsafe
Each year, more than 9,000 children are estimated to be injured while in baby walkers, with about 2,000 babies going to the emergency room for walker-related injuries. Many of these injuries involve the head and neck.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has called for bans on baby walkers in the US, because these walkers pose so many dangers. (Baby walkers have already been banned in Canada since 2004.)
Here are some of the most prominent risks that baby walkers pose:
Even if you watch baby closely, they could still get injured. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a baby in a walker can move more than 3 feet in just one second. That’s faster than most adults can run. So, watching baby won’t guarantee that they stay safe in the walker. Many walker injuries have happened when parents were watching, but just couldn’t stop their babies from rolling into a dangerous situation.
Baby is at risk for falls and bumps. Your little one could end up tumbling down the stairs in an instant, tip over in the walker, or bump into something hard or sharp. This could cause a head, neck, or back injury, or even lead to broken bones. Falls down the stairs are one of the most common injuries caused by walkers.
Baby could reach for unsafe things they can’t normally reach. Walkers give baby extra height, meaning they could reach up for a hot pot on a stove, access the oven more easily, or pull down something sharp or heavy that could injure them.
They might also be able to access and consume something that looks enticing, but is unsafe for them to eat (such as medicine or dishwashing liquid). This could lead to poisoning.
Baby could get burned. As mentioned above, a baby can reach for the stove, the oven, and containers holding hot food or liquids more easily if they are in a walker. They could also quickly wheel into a heater, radiator, or fireplace. Or, they might be able to access an electrical outlet that’s normally out of reach.
Baby is at risk for drowning. In a walker, baby can quickly roll towards an open pool, toilet, or filled tub, and potentially fall in.
Walkers can knock down gates and other safety devices. If you have a baby gate set up, baby could ram it with the walker and knock it over. This further increases the odds that baby can reach something unsafe.
Walkers don’t even help baby learn to walk. Spending time in a walker might actually delay the development of muscles that baby needs to walk on their own. If a baby is in a walker, they use different muscles than the ones needed to walk independently. They lose out on opportunities to crawl, pull themself up, balance themself, and stand on their own – all developmental milestones that lead up to walking. And they might also develop bad walking habits, like walking on their toes.
Even though newer walkers have to follow certain requirements, those requirements aren’t enough to protect baby. Under federal law, walkers must be wide enough that they can’t fit through most doors. They also must have auto-lock brakes, which are meant to stop the wheels when one wheel is lower than the others (say, if a baby approaches the stairs).
But the most glaring safety issue still remains – walkers have wheels and enclose baby inside, giving baby increased mobility. Baby can still quickly reach hazards that they wouldn’t be able to reach normally, and they could still fall down stairs before you’re able to catch them.
Learn more about the safety hazards of baby walkers from Mama Natural:
Alternatives to baby walkers
Now that you know why you should throw out or return that baby walker, what are the safer alternatives?
If you need to keep baby out of harm’s way for a bit, you can place them in a high chair or exersaucer (a stationary seat with activity panels, which has no wheels on the bottom). But be sure that baby is in sight at all times. And limit the time baby spends in the exersaucer or high chair. Babies need to have plenty of time where they can move around and build the muscles needed to eventually walk.
The best alternative to a walker is to give baby safe opportunities to explore and build the muscles they need for walking.
A fenced play area can keep baby safer, while allowing baby to practice sitting, crawling, and standing if they choose. Or, you can block off areas with gates or dividers. With either of these options, be ready to watch baby as they move around.
Giving baby lots of tummy time and floor time is one of the best things you can do to encourage them to walk.
Exercises on the tummy are vital for muscle building (check out our guide to tummy time exercises here). You can also try these other exercises for babies to help them reach motor milestones.
And once baby is ready, a sofa is a great tool that baby can use to practice pulling themself up on, and eventually “cruise” while holding onto the sofa.
You can also let baby use a “push-along toy” (also called a “push car” or “push walker”). These devices give baby something to hold onto as they practice walking. Plus, they let baby see their legs, which is essential when babies are learning to walk.
The key difference between an unsafe baby walker and a “push walker” is that baby walks behind a “push walker,” not inside it.
This push-along toy is a safer alternative to a baby walker.
Since “push walkers” don’t have a seat, baby can’t pick up speed. And since they need to hold on, there’s less of a risk that baby will grab something unsafe. Of course, you’ll still need to supervise your little one as they use the “push-along toy,” and make sure that the space they use the toy in is free from stairs and unsafe objects.
Make sure a “push walker” is very sturdy before you buy, that it has a bar that baby can grasp with both hands, and that it’s weighted in a way that prevents tipping. In addition, only offer “push-along toys” to babies who can pull up to a standing position and balance on their own.
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