Should you get a baby walker for your little one? A google search showed that baby walkers were used as early as the 15th century in Europe. On the surface, it may seem like a helpful tool. Baby practices walking with the help of a device. It is like a training device right?
Let’s talk safety first. Baby walkers open a world of hazards and risks. Babies are now at a higher level and can reach for objects that they were not able to before – hot water, glassware, cords, shelves, etc. In contrast, if you were training a baby how to walk with hands-on training, you would be physically present and there to intervene for safety if needed. Babies can run into objects, fall down stairs, or seriously injure themselves.
Much is this is based on my education in occupational therapy and experience and anecdotal, but it is likely to be supported by research and doctors.
Baby walkers are probably not good for development.
Instead of babies learning how to use their bodies naturally to discover their world, they are placed in a fixed standing position and allowed to have their legs propel themselves. Humans don’t walk like that naturally. Their hips sway back and forth and their arms are allowed to swing in unison. It may seem like baby walkers help babies walk, but studies have shown them to have the opposite effect – delays in walking.
I have a 7-month-old who I never once put on a baby walker. The pediatrician considers him advanced in gross motor skills – he knows how to crawl, pull to stand, sit unsupported, cruise along with furniture, and come into a slow controlled sit from a stand. It’s likely due to me not putting him on a baby walker and allowing him to develop in his natural environment.
In contrast, a friend’s baby who is 2 months older was put on a baby walker and was functional. Without it, however, he did not even initiate rolling or crawling yet. Sure, every baby is different, but I think this can be very telling of how some devices may cause potential delays in development.
I believe that baby walkers make babies dependent on them instead of learning naturally how to control their balance, proprioception, use their ankles, legs, and core muscles. Parents who get baby walkers also likely put them on it too early, e.g., before they even know how to sit properly. It may look cute, but how much of the walking is baby really doing? They may learn to walk “improperly”, then when the baby walker is taken away, they are likely confused with their “muscle memory”.
The best way to have your baby develop their gross motor skills is by allowing them to explore their natural world with different textures, surfaces, firmness, angles, and so on with motivation such as coming to the parents, contrast toys, pets, etc. Allow them to experiment and fall softly without getting hurt with repeated practice. Tummy time is a great place to start. When they master that, rolling and army crawling come next.
Some babies may skip steps and that is okay. Find out what motivates your baby and how they like to spend their time and talk to your pediatrician and occupational therapist about how they are doing if you are concerned.
Baby walkers get a no from OT Dude.