Did you know that the sale, advertisement and import of baby walkers was banned in Canada in 2004? Or that the American Academy of Pediatrics called for the total ban and recall of baby walkers in 1995 and 2001 (although the recommendation was ignored)? Or how about the fact that the Medical Journal of Australia recommended the ban of baby walkers in 2002 due to the significant number of serious injuries caused by their use. If not, you would not be alone. The latest statistics we could find indicate that 3 million baby walkers are sold annually in the USA alone, causing on average 8,800 hospital treated injuries and 1.5 deaths per year just in the USA.
Most injuries caused by baby walkers occur when an adult is within reach of the child. The likelihood of injury and death when using a baby walker is linked to the inherent design of the walker rather than a lack of parental supervision. Babies’ can move at 1 meter per second when using a baby walker, faster than a parent can respond. Multiple studies indicate that baby walkers have consistently been a leading cause of injury to children.
- Falls – Soft tissue injuries and lacerations represented 63% of the injuries, particular from falls on stairs. Trauma to the head region occurred in 91% of cases. Skull fractures were the most common (62%) type of fracture. Falls down stairs was the mechanism of injury in 74% of cases.
- Burns – Burns and scalds are also common with the use of baby walkers, with the additional height providing access to hot liquids (sauce pans, coffee cups and kettles, etc).
- Poisoning – Along with the additional height children are also able to more easily access poisons (cleaning products, medicines, cosmetics, etc).
- Drowning – Babies move faster and can fall due to uneven surfaces. This makes it easier to fall into open pools or ponds and increases their risk of drowning.
- A baby walker prevents the child seeing his or her walking legs, which inhibits their motor skills.
- A baby walker forces the child to walk before they may be ready.
- A baby walker deprives the child of time required to learn other essential motor skills.
One journal article confirmed that infants that used baby-walkers sat, crawled and walked later than infants that did not use baby-walkers, and they also scored lower in mental development.
The United States product safety commission estimated that 197,200 infant walker-related injuries occurred among children who were younger than 15 months and treated in US emergency departments from 1990 through 2001. After the introduction in 1994 of stationary activity centers as an alternative to mobile infant walkers, there was a marked decrease in the number of infant walker-related injuries. Overall, there was a 76% decrease in the number of injuries from 1990 to 2001 from 20,900 injuries in 1990 to 5100 in 2001. To summarize, the main safe alternatives to a baby walker include:
- Stationary activity center.
- Enclosed play pen.
- A sturdy high chair with a 5 point harness.
- Floor play. Placing a baby onto a rug for floor play promotes large muscle skills like rolling, sitting, pulling, coordination, balance, crawling and walking.
Still Want to Buy a Baby Walker?
If you are determined to buy a baby walker ensure it complies with a reliable international standard such as the Australian, British (BSEN 1273:2005 British standard for baby walkers) or American (US Standard Consumer Safety Specifications for infant walkers F977). This will ensure the equipment has met safe design standards. Look for the sticker on the bottom on the underside of the walker, if it doesn’t have the sticker it likely won’t comply to a safety standard putting your little one at further risk of injury.
Thanks to Flickr user whatstepheats for the great picture!
- Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Prevention
- American Association of Pediatrics – Injuries Associated with Infant Walkers
- American Association of Pediatrics – Baby Walkers Delay Motor and Mental Development
- Australian Product Safety Commission
- The European Child Safety Alliance
- Flinders University Centre for Injury Studies
- Kidsafe New South Wales
- The Medical Journal of Australia
Maree has over five years of experience in Occupational Health and Safety and in the development of safety standards, training workshops and improvement initiatives. She is passionate about health, safety and education. Maree, a mother of two children, has a Advanced Diploma in OHS and will be graduating soon with a B.Sc. (HSE) from Australia.