There is nothing more precious than welcoming a new member to our families. A baby can radically change your life for the better, making every day a journey of learning and discovering new things side by side. Being a new parent is not an easy task, and even if you already have other children and parenting experience, no two babies are the same. Taking care of them won’t ever be easy because parenting is a challenge, but it is one we welcome with open arms if it means getting to see our little ones grow to be happy and healthy. However, how do we make sure we are taking steps in the right direction as parents?
Making sure that we are doing our best as parents is one of the things that worries us the most, no matter how amateur or novice we are at this. There are hundreds of new things to keep an eye out on, and just as our kids are discovering new things everyday, so are we. During this critical period of their lives, the things we do and the measures we take will influence the road ahead for our children beyond what we could imagine. Every decision matters, no matter how small it may seem, and it can be a game-changer later on in terms of the development of their cognitive learning, motor skills, and even personality traits.
You want to be present for your child’s every milestone: their first laugh, their first crawl, their first words, and of course, their first steps. Walking is a defining moment in the first few months of life of your baby, and like every parent out there, we want our kids to stand up and start walking as soon as possible. We relate the speed at which babies reach milestones with better overall development, yet we fail to see that rushing things might not be the best for them in the long term.
In their eagerness to get their baby to walk faster, a lot of parents will consider getting themselves a baby walker to help them reach that goal. For parents over the last 20 years, the decision of buying a baby walker has been surrounded by controversy due to the debate over the benefits and potential safety concerns of this device. While there are many conflicting views on baby walkers out there, we want to lay out all the facts about them and their use so you can objectively decide what path you want to walk with your baby.
What is a baby walker?
A baby walker is an invention conceived to help babies learn how to walk. The idea behind it is to help babies stand upright so they can move around aided by the stability brought by the walker. The standard way in which this works is that the baby can stand thanks to a suspended seat that can be made out of plastic, fabric, or some other materials that are comfortable and give enough mobility range to the baby. The seat is suspended because it is attached to an outer structure that stands on wheels. Babies on walkers can stand and move freely in any direction as long as they learn how to give steps and eventually walk on their own.
How do I know if my baby is ready for a walker?
Usually, the telling sign your baby could progress in their walking by stepping up into a walker is that they are at least able to sit straight. You also want your baby to be able to crawl well, and if they are showing any intentions of trying to stand up, even better. Babies at this stage should have developed enough core strength and motor coordination to be able to reproduce some of the movements they do while crawling, i.e. taking steps, except the idea is for them to do it in a standing position.
Are there different types of baby walkers?
Yes, most models are designed just like the one described earlier, but there are differences that can highly influence your decision. For instance, some baby walkers have rigid plastic seats instead of loose fabric ones. A plastic seat can give more support to your infant, but they won’t be able to move as freely as they would on a fabric seat. Moreover, walkers can also come with other features, like a button board sitting on the front of the device to keep the baby focused and entertained. Wheels can either make a triangle and roll in all directions, or you can have a walker with four wheels that your baby can steer but not really walk anywhere they want.
Other models that are also popular resemble a sort of utility cart, obviously decorated with baby themes and usually sounds that trigger as the baby walks. The way in which these work is entirely different because the baby has no direct support in the form of a seat. Instead, the baby is supposed to stand up and hold onto the walker as if they were wheeling a shopping cart, making it roll forward by taking steps. These versions are usually rather noisy and can be tricky to use if your baby cannot sit upright just yet.
What are the pros of baby walkers?
Having your baby use a baby walker to advance further in their walking learning process has several benefits. Some of these include:
- Improved mobility skills
- Better spatial awareness
- Multitasking ability development
- Gives parents a break
For starters, the main benefit of baby walkers is found in the improved motor skills your baby will have. By putting them on a walker, babies will figuratively and literally take the next steps forward by themselves. This sense of independent locomotion without the risk of falling allows babies to take all the steps necessary towards full standalone walking at their own pace. Everything is intuitive for babies in development, and walking will come to them soon enough with a walker to help.
Furthermore, learning how to walk in a walker gives babies a better sense of their surroundings and different spaces. The inherent safety of the seat and rig of the baby walker lets infants take tours around the house or rooms where they are allowed to hang out on the walker. This increases their awareness and helps them get better at physically locating objects and people around the environment where they are learning how to walk.
Baby walkers with boards of buttons and other entertainment features help your baby have fun while he or she learns, but they also have an underlying benefit that can be very helpful in their long-term development. It will become second nature for these little ones walking around on walkers with boards to do two things at the same time. Pressing buttons or staying focused on whatever entertainment system comes equipped with the walker simultaneously as they walk around will help them greatly further down the road.
Last but not least, putting your child on a walker lets them have some level of independence for a while and it gives you a timeout to catch your breath. Having babies use the baby walker and just be babies allows you to get some house chores done, catch up with some work, cook lunch, or just take some well-deserved me time at that point of the day. It doesn’t mean you won’t pay attention to your baby, but it just becomes much less of a hassle to keep an eye on him or her when they can just do their thing alongside you.
What about the cons of walkers?
While there might not be as many disadvantages to letting your infant use baby walker, these are significant enough to make the devices controversial to use in their own right. The cons of baby walkers are:
- Underdevelopment of leg muscles
- Dangerous mobility and access
The first point many people make against the use of baby walkers is that they actually have a negative effect in the natural process of babies who are learning how to walk. The assistance that walkers provide actually hinders their ability to stand straight as a natural progression from sitting and crawling, and it has a much deeper effect in the development of leg muscles. Since the walker is supporting their upper weight with the seat, their feet are taking the steps when they move but their legs are not making nowhere near as close an effort as they would do if they were learning how to walk independently.
Moreover, some scientific studies claim that the use of baby walker actually delays the natural progress of babies learning how to walk. Precisely because walkers are essentially training wheels, infants who learned how to walk on these devices need to take some additional time to calibrate their newly learned abilities and gain the strength they need to stand upright and take steps without stumbling or falling constantly.
On top of that, walkers have been deemed dangerous for the physical integrity of babies who use them. By making them able to go anywhere in a confined space, infants can get access to hazardous substances that they in turn could consume like laundry detergent and other cleaning products. A baby on a walker can also get closer to any power outlet around the house that isn’t covered, or get their fingers trapped playing with swinging doors and things of the sort.
In the most extreme cases, consumer associations have warned that the use of baby walkers can be potentially deadly to children. Using them in houses with stairs and decks puts babies at risk of falling and severely harm themselves if there is nothing to stop them. There are enough documented cases of infant deaths as a byproduct of baby walker use that their sale is banned in countries like Canada by law, carrying a fine and jail time if parents are found to be using a baby walker with their child.
Bottom line: baby walkers have great potential in controlled environments
Having gone over the general qualities of baby walkers and their main advantages and disadvantages, an argument can be made in favor of the use of baby walkers as long as it is under supervision from parents and in controlled environments where children are out of harm’s way. Establishing spatial limits to the use of baby walkers and making sure everything is safe is essential if you decide to get one of these and have your baby use it.
An example of responsible baby walker use would be a living room or a basement with no access to other areas of the house where babies could get hurt. Some parents turn one of the rooms of the house into a playroom precisely with these scenarios in mind, but one of the pros that influence parents’ choice of the device is precisely the freedom that gives both them and their baby to be in the same space. When this is the case and you want to keep an eye on your baby on their walker in the living room, for example, make sure there are no appliances or electronics connected with visible cords that they can trip with. Also cover power outlets with baby proof strips or covers to avoid any incidents. Make sure drawers are also baby proofed and if possible, have someone else along with you to watch the baby if you are taking over cooking or some other chore.
Never let your child hang around on its baby walker in open, public places like pools or the park. They are too prone to incidents when there are no clear boundaries on where they can go on such open spaces. Baby walkers have all the potential in the world but should be used wisely to avoid any of the undesired effects they can have in child development, and most importantly to avoid any regrettable episodes due to lack of care or supervision when learning how to walk. If you need some guidance in terms of what models to buy, you can choose from these baby walkers shown here.