A baby walker is a mobile frame that babies can use to move around. According to research, around half of the babies from the age of six months can start free walking, at which age they can move around half-sitting and kicking. Babies that do not walk outright learn to move around in a baby walker.
Nowadays, baby walkers are becoming less popular due to their negative influence on babies' health. There is also an opinion that usage of these devices may negatively affect babies' ability to walk independently later. Research has shown that putting a baby in a baby walker can cause some problems with walking, although this effect only lasts for several months. After this period, the child will return to its usual mode of walking if put in a baby walker more than once or twice at most during the first six months of his life.
However, it should be noted that children who have used baby walkers more often are generally faster at learning how to move around by themselves compared with other kids.
Thus, it should be noted that there are some positive effects of a baby walker if used correctly: better learning how to move around due to more frequent loads with body weight during one day; increased activity of large muscle groups; improved responsiveness and flexibility due to taking part in different physical activities while staying in a mobile frame.
What is a walker?
In a free walker (sometimes also called a baby walker) the baby is "put in" and held by the legs with a belt. Since the device can be moved around the baby by rolling, the baby can move around easily.
Baby walkers are designed for toddlers aged 6 to 15 months. That’s the right time when to put the baby in a walker. The walkers usually consist of a frame that is on wheels and on which a seat is integrated. The child sits or stands in it and can touch the ground with their toes or feet. As soon as the baby pushes itself off on the floor, the free walk starts rolling.
Learning to walk is a whole new challenge for every small child. However, you can support it with baby walkers. Your little one will find support in it and can hold on to it if it should be difficult. A gaming table stimulates touching and grasping and thus also promotes your child's motor skills. It also feels great for your child to be able to stand on their own two feet and decide for themselves where they are going next. This step is very important for growing children.
On the other hand, it's easy to see that the child develops rapidly when using a walker. Children learn much more quickly with baby walkers than without them. They are also learning to master their own body better and better. However, people who use baby walkers should be particularly careful about safety issues. The little ones can easily hurt themselves if there is no one nearby or they have to free themselves from the belt.
If your child walks well enough without support, you can stop giving them access to a walker early on so as not to delay their development.
How dangerous are baby walkers really?
Baby walkers enhance motor skills but also bring along a danger. There was a time when it contributed to a child's independent movement and the parents spared themselves the effort of providing support for their little one. A walker can be pushed, which is why it must not be placed on the stairs or next to a table edge without back support. But who thinks about that as a caretaker with his hands full of dishes?
Parents often forget that children between six months and two years develop very rapidly. In this age group, babies are suddenly capable of massive movements, after all, they have been lying around helplessly until now. Doing floor exercises is not unusual at all with these little ones, even if you only put them in front of a crayon box a pile of building blocks once they can crawl. If a free walker is rolled too far away, the baby will inevitably try to go after it and maybe even get hurt in the process.
The most common injury associated with baby walkers is a so-called "finger trap" which usually occurs when they climb up or downstairs. This happens when one or more of their fingers gets caught between the edge of the stair and the frame of the walker and they get stuck there until someone frees them.
In addition, children also often suffer from pressure marks on their back and thighs if they stay seated in a baby walker for too long at a time. The skin literally tears under that much pressure because babies literally put on weight while sitting; this is why they are not always able to free themselves.
A baby walker is also dangerous when used by infants younger than six months. Their muscles have not yet developed enough so they should be carried in an ergonomically correct way for this age group through the first half of their first year of life, but especially during their first weeks. This makes it possible to orient themselves better, which allows them to develop even without a walker.
That's why the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends that babies under one-year-old can't really use baby walkers safely because they don't know how to get up if they fall down or how to protect their heads if their movement falls.
When to put a baby in a walker
The start of the walking is certainly very individual and genetically determined. There are two milestones, one of which is around 12 months when the children start to pull themselves up and run along with objects. And at 15 months they usually run free. But there are also children whose turn it is much sooner or later. If they do not walk when they are around one year old, that is not a cause for concern at first, it will come later.
Early runners make their surroundings unsafe when they are eight months old, while shy children do not walk or run until they are 19 months old.
The general rule: About eight weeks after the initial attempts at walking, most children can walk really well. At 16 months, around 90 percent of all toddlers can walk.
However, for the first four years, the children are constantly preoccupied with not falling and perfecting their walking, running, and hopping. Baby walkers cannot influence the running age and you shouldn't push your child, although you can use a baby walker to encourage children's mobility from the start.
A word of caution
Depending on the ability and development of the children, the baby walker can reach very high speeds. Your offspring can quickly crash into the edges of tables, shelves, and cupboards and seriously injure themselves in the process. For a short time, a baby walker can even reach speeds of up to 10 km/h and the parents often do not have the time to be able to react adequately when the baby is in danger.
The baby walker is a significant cause of accidents and injuries to children. Between 1990 and 2010, there were more than 17,000 emergency room visits due to accidents with baby walkers in the United States alone. A third of that number was caused by falls downstairs. The most common injuries include bruises and damage to the head, mainly because children crawl on their hands and knees when using it. There have also been cases where babies fell through window panes or had suffocated under toy cubes after crawling into small spaces. These are just some of the risks you take when leaving your child unattended for even just a few seconds.
A study at Johns Hopkins University showed that 90 percent of all parents use baby walkers as free babysitters. Letting children sit in a baby walker without supervision is unfortunately very common and that's exactly what the pediatricians want to change with their latest warning.
Be aware, but do not panic. The AAP categorically condemns the use of baby walkers but does allow for other applications such as using it while playing or placing toys inside. You should always stay nearby yourself when you are using it and make sure you have a safe environment where your child cannot fall downstairs or do anything else dangerous. If you decide to ignore the warnings and continue to use a baby walker anyway, then at least keep an eye on kids who are playing in it constantly!