Grandparents should know baby walker pros and cons before using one.
Raise your hand if you think baby walkers are safe as long as they aren’t used around stairs.
Unfortunately, stairs are not the only hazard to a child in a tray walker. Although stairs are involved in 75% of injuries involving walkers, there are other hazards as well. The second most common cause of injury is babies falling out of the walker itself. And because walkers give a baby mobility and reach they would not have otherwise, there are numerous injuries from burns and poisons. Between 1990 and 2014, over 230,000 children under the age of 15 months went to the ER for baby walker-related injuries.
There is a reason that baby walkers are banned in Canada, and safety is only one issue. Another is that walkers can delay motor and mental development.
From the New York Times review of a study by Dr. A. Carol Siegel:
On average, infants who did not use walkers sat at 5 months, crawled at 8 months and began to walk in their 10th month, while babies who used walkers that blocked their views of their feet first sat near the end of their 6th month, crawled at 9 months and walked at almost 12 months. Babies whose walkers permitted them to see their feet sat and crawled at an age midway between the other two groups.
It's important to note that this study was far from definitive, and subsequent small studies have had mixed results. But when it comes to our grandchildren, we certainly want to avoid all the risks we can!
A third issue is the effect of walkers on a baby’s developing body. The seats in walkers (and jumpers and exersaucers) put the baby’s hips in a position that can lead to hip dysplasia or dislocation when they are older. If their feet don’t rest fully on the floor, they can develop tightness in their heel cords, which can lead to toe-walking.
According to The Children’s Rehabilitation Institute TeletonUSA:
Research shows using these kinds of toys does not help your child achieve independent skills sooner, because they are able to “walk”, “sit”, “jump” in a seated, supported, and poorly aligned position. This means they are not able to fully practice the muscle control and balance reactions necessary for moving outside of the device.
CRIT goes on to point out that the ill-effects of these toys are unlikely if a child is in an exersaucer for a short period each day. It’s when a walker is used for hours to keep the baby occupied while the caregivers are busy that both safety and development become an issue.
What should you, as a grandparent, do with this information?
Like all information on this website, our purpose is to educate you so you can better understand the choices your adult children are making as parents. If they are using a baby walker and you are worried about it, send them this blog post and ask if they have seen studies like these. Don’t, however, try to dictate what they do with the information.
On the other hand, if you are using a baby walker when your grandchild is at your house, you might want to find a new way to entertain the baby. Hopefully, now that you’ve seen the pros and cons of using a baby walker, you can make an informed decision.
Going anywhere with young children requires patience and, in the words of Mad Eye Moody, constant vigilance. It also helps to have a few tricks in your bag. Though my grandchildren live in another state, if they are visiting me or I am visiting them, I make sure to add a few things to my purse:
What do you keep in your bag for your grandchildren?
When my son was 8 months old, we drove across the country on our way to my husband’s new job. We stayed with various friends and relations all along the way, setting up a portable crib in one guest room after another. When it was mealtime, we had a plastic milkcrate that we plopped the baby into, a strange but effective substitute for a highchair. Since we were traveling by car, it wasn’t hard to carry along all the things we needed. But it’s not always that easy.
Whether your grandchildren come to visit every day or but once a year, there are things you’ll want to have at your house to simplify visits for everyone. For babies and toddlers, a safe place to sleep and somewhere to sit during meals are both worth the investment. Portable cribs are relatively inexpensive when new, and can often be found at consignment stores specializing in children’s clothes and equipment.* Fold-up highchairs are easy to stash in a closet or basement when they aren’t needed, and invaluable when they are. (We've been really happy with the uber cheap Cosco Simple Fold High Chair.)
If your grandchild and her parents are arriving by plane, having a carseat already installed when you pick them up at the airport will earn you gold stars. Just make sure you’ve checked with the parents to confirm you get the right kind, and read the directions carefully to ensure you install it correctly. If you want to buy one, there are safe options available at all price points. If you don’t think the investment makes sense, ask around to see if a neighbor or friend has one you can borrow for the duration of the visit. I posted a request to my small circle on Facebook before my grandchildren’s first visit and had three offers within an hour!
Want to see our other suggestions? Download our free guide, 7 Things New Grandparents Need!
*Whenever you buy something used, be sure to check for recalls on the manufacturer’s website or with the Consumer Product Safety Commission. It is not recommended that you buy used car seats, as there is no way of knowing whether they’ve been compromised in a previous accident.