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Baby Walkers

The below information has been taken from the Children in Wales website, baby walker training pack.

So what's a baby walker?

Baby walkers are used for children aged between 6-15 months, aimed at those who can sit unaided, and who weigh no more than 12kg (26.4lbs).  They are mobile – on wheels and are narrower than a doorway with a harness in which a child sits.

 
How long have they been around?

Baby walkers are believed to have existed in the medieval period (500-1500 AD) and became most popular during post World War II baby boom.

Who uses them?

It has been estimated that up to 50% of parents in the UK with children between 3 and 12 months old, use a baby walker.
That could equate to approximately 300,000 children (National Statistics Online)

What's the problem?

It is estimated that baby walkers are responsible for injuring more children than any other nursery product with the verage age for an injury (in reviews for Children in Wales training project) = 8.7 months.

  • Mobility way beyond child’s normal range for that age.
  • Access to other rooms.
  • Wheel into fireplaces.
  • Wheel into work surfaces.
  • Pull at cables, saucepans etc.
  • No awareness of danger at 6-15 months

Baby walkers can travel on an non carpeted floor 4 feet per second, that is equivalent to 12 feet in 3 seconds – quicker across a large living room than the time it might take you to react.

What type of accidents?

Falls are the main cause of serious injury.
Stairs involved in 71-96% of cases.  In a 1996 study out of the 36 infants injured 35 had fallen down stairs.  27 sustained minor injuries to the face or head, 3 needed dental treatment and3 fractured collar bones.

  • Skull fractures account for 1 in 10 of walker-related injuries.
  • 97% walker injuries involve the head and neck.
  • In one study, 9 out of 19 walker injuries resulted in a skull fracture

Babies’ heads can weigh a third of their body weight.  Infants in walkers are therefore top-heavy and unstable. One study found 21% walker injuries resulted from tip-overs.

Burns and scalds Account for 2-5% of walker injuries.

  •  Most commonly from electric/gas fires, heater bars, kettle chords and pulling down hot drinks.
  • A quarter of burn victims under the 12 months sustained their injury whilst in a walker
  • Of the 8 infants, 3 needed surgery, 1 needed formal resuscitation.
  • Further study – walker burns victims resulted in a 20 day stay in hospital
  • One study found 20% of ingestion poisonings in 6-9 month old infants resulted from substances accessed whilst using a baby walker.
    • 1989-1993 USA  11 fatalities from baby walker use(4 drownings, 4 suffocations, 3 falls)
    • 1982-1987 Canada 4 fatalities from baby walker use.

Is supervision not enough to keep a baby safe in a baby walker?

78-89% of infants were being supervised at the time of the accident
No matter how well a child is supervised, walkers allow a child to move into danger much faster than any parent can react to prevent the injury occurring.

Does it not help little ones learn how to walk?

30-59% of parents believe that walkers aid child development.
There is no evidence to show that walkers aid walking development. In fact, they show the opposite…
 At least 6 studies carried out between 1977-1999 show that walkers hamper a child’s development.
Two reasons:

  1. The infant may attempt walking-like movements which, in a walker, create some forward movement. However, if the infant was trying to walk without the walker, these movements would be incorrect (for example, pushing from the tip-toes) but within the walker these movements create forward motion and are therefore reinforced.
  2. If correct walking-like movements are used, the child’s view of their feet is often obscured by the frame of the walkers. This means that the correct movement is not registered in their visual field, and therefore cannot be reinforced.

A large study in 2000, nearly 200 infants were analysed. Walker and non-walker groups were compared.Those who used walkers achieved crawling, standing alone and walker later than those who did not use a walker.  Walker use was not found to help sitting, standing with support or walking with support.
 Pinckney in 2004 said, ‘There is absolutely no evidence that (baby walkers) encourage children to walk any earlier – in fact, there is medical research that shows they may actually damage hip joints by putting too much weight on them too early.’

But is it not fun?

Yes, they might appear to be fun.  However, with no developmental benefits and an increased safety risk, why put a child in one?
The Child Accident Prevention Trust states how important for children to experience floor play, as it helps develop correct motor skills.  There are huge benefits in: 

  • floor-work
  • crawling
  • cruising (walking whilst holding on to furniture)
  • which all include development of motor skills in preparation for walking.

What about using warnings or changing the design?

Labelling walkers with warning labels has not proven to be effective. In the United States labelling has taken place since 1997, but there continued to be a steady increase in baby walker injury.
Wider-design walkers can prevent some stair falls (by preventing an infant leaving a room).

However, tip-over injuries, contact burns and scalds, and poisonings are all still possible. 
One Australian study found that even by taking out the fall injuries, 50% of walker injuries would still occur.

  • If supervision is the issue – try a crib or play pen.
  • If entertainment is the issue – try a stationary activity centre: