Baby walkers, or infant walkers, are used by parents to entertain their child for short periods of time. While a baby walker may do the job of keeping the baby occupied, they do give the child the ability to be mobile, which may result in unexpected messes or injuries. Baby walkers are designed for use by babies who can hold their necks and upper bodies up, which is typically around four or five months of age. Children should stop using baby walkers when they start walking. Baby walkers have become a controversial subject due to the many injuries that have been associated with them. Due to the mobility baby walkers give them, children often wheel themselves into rooms that aren’t childproofed, down stairs, and even into pools.
A typical baby walker is composed of a cloth seat that is suspended in the middle of a large platform that surrounds the baby, providing a back, armrests and a front tray for toys and snacks. Under the tray is a frame with wheels on the base. The baby is suspended just high enough off the ground to touch with his feet. An estimated three million are sold each year, making them one of the most popular infant toys. Many parents opt for a baby walker because they believe that it will help the child develop walking skills earlier, but in reality, they may slightly delay walking.
Opponents of baby walkers cite the high injury rate — over 25,000 injuries treated in emergency rooms in 1992 alone — as a reason to ban the manufacture and sale of them in the United States. Not only were children falling down stairs, they were also burning themselves on heaters and/or stoves, and getting into cabinets and rooms that weren’t adequately babyproofed. The number one injury related to baby walkers is head injury.
After a campaign to ban them was launched by agencies such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, manufacturers voluntarily established a safety standard in 1997 that required that baby walkers have a rubber friction strip on the bottom that stopped the walker if any of the wheels went off a step. While these friction strips don’t always work as intended, injuries significantly dropped, as evidenced by the statistic that in 2003, there were 3,200 walker- related injuries treated. These “new generation,” or “second generation” baby walkers not only included features to stop the walker should the front or back wheels go off a step, but they were also widened to prevent them from going through door frames, and some have locks on the wheels.
If you choose to purchase a baby walker, be aware that you may have to do some extra baby proofing, and take special steps to ensure that your child will be safe while using it. You should install safety gates at the top of each set of stairs the child may have access to. Childproof cabinets, drawers and closet doors, and ensure that there are no dangling power cords within reach. If possible, keep the baby out of the kitchen by installing a gate. Never allow a child to use the baby walker near a pool or other open area of water. Once the child is big enough to walk and shows signs of attempting to crawl out of the walker, stop using it. Some parents forego the baby walker altogether, and opt for a baby bouncer or stationary entertainment center, which is similar in design, but wheel-less.
Written by O. Wallace
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