Many people don’t realize how dangerous baby walkers can be. For years pediatricians and child safety experts have been warning parents not to use them, yet they remain extremely popular (with an estimated annual sales of more than $3 million). As a result, deaths and injuries continue to occur.
One study showed that infants living in a home where there is a baby walker are nine times more likely to suffer a serious injury.
There are many ways a child can get injured:
- Falling down stairs -- Stairs are implicated in over 75% of injuries and almost all of the severe injuries and fatalities.
- Burns -- Children can move quicker and reach higher in a walker. As a result, children have increased access to hazards such as hot liquids, stove burners, pot handles on a stove, fireplaces and radiators.
- Poisoning -- Poisons that would otherwise be out of reach are accessible to a child in a walker.
- Drowning -- Children in a walker can fall into a swimming pool, bathtub or toilet.
- Finger and toe entrapment -- Children can get their fingers and toes trapped in the walker itself.
Walkers built before 1997 are especially dangerous because they were manufactured before the enactment of voluntary industry standards. Those standards require that walkers be wider than a standard 36” doorway or have a gripping mechanism designed to prevent a fall down a flight of stairs.
However, even new models aren’t necessarily safe, as non-compliant walkers continue to come on the market.
While some parents believe that using a walker will help their child learn to walk, the opposite is actually true. Studies have shown that walkers give babies too much support and slow the development of needed balance and leg muscle strength.
Since the risks of using a baby walker far outweigh the benefits, parents should avoid mobile walkers and use safer alternatives such a stationary activity center, playpen or high chair.
Stationary activity centers have no wheels but allow children to bounce, swivel, spin and tip. A child can move back and forth along tracks built into the center. The stationary design eliminates the risk of a child falling down stairs and does not give a child increased access to hazards such as hot stoves, poisons, bathtubs and swimming pools.
Playpens provide a safe area for children to sit, crawl, and develop balance and leg muscle strength. High chairs allow children to sit up, eat and play with toys on the tray.