Friday, November 03, 2006

The Drawbacks of Walkers

By J.L. Soto

Baby walkers are commonly used for developing babies and are supposed to help them learn how to walk. But there has been a recent consensus among baby experts and health care professionals that they are not safe. In fact, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) walkers are not recommended. According to them in 1999 there were an estimated 8,800 walker-related injuries requiring hospital visits for babies fifteen months and younger. Yet they're still sold in stores and parents continue to put their babies in them for rolling around the home. This continued use comes out of following what was done in previous generations and parents' own experiences, meaning they or their older children made out fine using them so they're still OK to use.

Some may wonder how these walkers are dangerous. Here's how, they are related to head injuries at home that result from the babies colliding with furniture or worse tipping over in the walker. This last scenario is of special concern for families living in a residence with staircases. According to the AAP these injuries involving staircases are usually the most common when a walker is involved. Then there is the problem of the baby walking over to places and objects they would not ordinarily be able to reach like cords, table clothes, hot stoves and other unsafe places in the home. These situations point out the need for constant parental supervision and unfortunately it is very easy for some parents to get lax about the need to monitor their children when they're in the walkers.

Another drawback with walkers is that they supposedly delay motor development in babies when it comes to actually walking. This is because walking involves using the upper leg muscles and the hips and they need to be developed and strengthened with practice. Walkers only help to develop the lower leg muscles and the more time spent in a walker means the less time there is to develop coordination and flex the needed muscles for walking. It's also been reported that babies who use walkers often get confused visually when trying to walk on their own because while in the walkers they can't see their feet. This is important because seeing their feet while trying to walk helps in developing their coordination and balance. The problem with motor development only occurs when the walkers are overused. If using them, make sure babies only spend about thirty to sixty minutes tops in them per day. One thing to contemplate is that walkers make it very easy for babies to get around which in turns reduces their desire to learn how to walk; this is related to the delays in their motor development.

If parents do use walkers, make sure that they carefully monitor their children. Don't just plop him or her in it and leave the room, stay involved and continue playing. Even then this is not a guarantee against any injuries because a baby in a walker can travel very fast, sometimes faster than a parent can respond. Try to get walkers that have some kind of braking system or ability to make them stationary. It's a good idea to baby-proof a room before allowing a baby into the area. That means blocking off doorways and heavy items that can fall down when struck such as television sets and entertainment centers and remove items like toys from the floor. And walkers should be wider than standard doorways.

Stationary walkers are safer alternatives but babies can become frustrated with them when they become more mobile. Just make sure that these types of walkers have enough bells and whistles to keep the baby entertained. Again as with mobile walkers, after placing the baby in the stationary walker keep monitoring the baby. Though they are safer, parents can never tell when something will or won't happen. If stationary walkers aren't an option consider a wagon or a push car that has a bar that lets the baby push the vehicle. Just make sure the car or wagon is weighed down so it cannot tip over.

The most important thing to do is to make sure the babies gets plenty of exercise away from the walkers and on a clean floor. Let them have the chance to use those leg muscles outside of the walkers since that is the best way for them to learn how to walk.

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