Are Baby Walkers Safe?

Most babies take their first hesitant steps around their 1st birthday. A baby walker is one way to give those little legs some walking practice, but health experts say the devices can be dangerous. And they may delay kids from walking on their own.

What Is a Baby Walker?

A baby walker is a seat with leg openings attached to a square or circular base with wheels. The child's legs fit through the openings and reach the floor, which allows the little one to walk with support.

Some walkers bounce or have an activity tray. Toddler versions are open in the back to let the child walk behind while holding on to a handle.

Risks

Baby walkers can give parents a false sense of security because they offer a stable base. Yet they give babies both mobility and speed, which can be a risky combo. A child in a walker can move at more than 3 feet per second. That's fast enough to slip down the stairs, pull a hot cup of coffee off a countertop, or fall into a pool before you can get there.

Baby walker injuries send thousands of young children to hospitals each year. From 1990 to 2014, more than 230,000 children in the U.S. went to emergency rooms for walker-related injuries. Most were head and neck injuries from falling down stairs. Over a third were skull fractures. Concussions, soft tissue injuries, burns, and cuts were common, too.

Rules introduced in 1997 aimed to make the devices safer. Now baby walkers must be wider than a standard doorway, and they must brake if a wheel goes over the edge of a step. In 2010, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) made baby walker safety standards mandatory. Infant walker-related injuries dropped after these changes, but accidents still happen. More than 2,000 kids a year get hurt in baby walkers.

Infants may be less likely to fall down stairs in newer baby walkers, but they can still tip over or fall out of one. The extra height a walker gives kids also makes it easier for them to reach hot, sharp, or poisonous items left on countertops or shelves.

Rather than help babies learn to walk, these devices may delay the time it takes them to stand and walk. Too much time spent in a walker doesn't give kids the chance to practice their balance and the other skills they need to walk.

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Walker Safety

The Canadian government banned the sale of baby walkers in 2004. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has also called for an end to making and selling these devices in the U.S. But, so far, they are still legal.

If you still want to buy one, make sure it meets the safety standards set in 1997. The walker should be wider than the average 36-inch doorway, and it should have brakes to stop it from going over the edge of a step.

Never leave your child alone, even for a few minutes, in a walker. Make sure your child uses it only in open areas without any sharp, poisonous, or hot objects or open sources of water -- pools or tubs -- nearby. Babysitters, nannies, and daycare centers that watch your child should know these rules.

Alternatives

A walker isn't the only device that lets your child move and play. Stationary activity centers are a safer option. They have a seat that's supported by a base. Babies can bounce, turn, and sometimes spin around a table in the middle while playing with a variety of attached toys. Because these centers don't move, there's far less risk of a child falling down stairs or reaching for a dangerous item while in one.

Other options are bouncy seats or swings, which let kids move their legs and jump without traveling out of your sight. And a play yard, also called a playpen or a "Pack 'n Play," offers a safe space where babies can explore on their own two legs.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on August 19, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

FamilyDoctor.org: "Baby's First Steps."

Government of Canada: "Injury Data Analysis Leads to Baby Walker Ban."

Harvard Medical School: "Parents: Don't Use a Baby Walker."

HealthyChildren.org: "Baby Walkers: A Dangerous Choice."

Iranian Journal of Child Neurology: "The effect of baby walker on child development: A systematic review."

National Archives Federal Register: "Safety Standard for Infant Walkers: Final Rule."

Pediatrics: "Infant walker-related injuries in the United States," "Injuries associated with infant walkers."

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