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Do Baby Walkers Help Babies Learn to Walk?

Updated: Mar 1



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As a parent, you are naturally excited for those first steps and may be interested in any baby gear that could promote your child's development. You may have considered buying a baby walker—after all, they've been popular for decades and you may have used one yourself as a baby!


But in recent years, safety and child development experts have been warning parents against using baby walkers.

If you are considering buying a baby walker for your own baby, read on as we discuss their impact on your baby's motor skills and warn against the dangers.



In this article:



What is a baby walker?

A baby walker is a device designed to help babies learn to walk.


There are 2 main types of baby walker:

  1. Sit-in baby walker

  2. Baby push walker/activity walker/sit to stand walker


Sit-in baby walker

This is the most common and traditional type of walker. Sit-in baby walkers are designed for younger babies who can sit up but not yet support their own weight on their legs.



They are usually made of a lightweight frame attached to wheels. There is a suspended seat in the center for the baby with straps to hold the baby in place.


When a baby sits in this type of baby walker, they can propel themselves forward with their feet as the wheels allow them to roll around.



Baby push walker/activity walker/sit to stand walker

Baby push walkers (variations might be called "activity walkers" or "sit to stand walkers") are designed for babies who can already stand with support and take a few steps while holding on to something (often called "cruising").



A push walker has a sturdy frame with a handle that the baby can hold while pushing the walker forward. It may also have fun toys attached, make sounds, or function as a pretend grocery cart, lawn mower, or wagon.


The front panel of this V-Tech walker can be removed and used for different forms of play, making this a great 2-in-1 option. The push walker wheels have 2 levels of resistance to help beginning walkers. It also provides a good weight and is not as prone to tipping as other plastic walkers.



This is a simpler walker that works well in smaller spaces and provides good balance.



This classic Radio Flyer wagon can be loaded up with toys and other items, allowing for more open-ended play. The walker moves more slowly when weighed down with toys, providing additional stability for beginners.




Do baby walkers help babies learn to walk?

The answer to this question depends entirely on the type of baby walker you are considering. We'll consider sit-in walkers and push walkers separately.


Sit-in baby walker

Research shows that baby walkers do not actually help babies learn to walk and may even have a detrimental effect.

Some studies have found that using a baby walker can have a negative impact on a baby's motor development by preventing them from working on skills such as crawling and moving from sit to stand. These skills are important precursors for learning to walk, so using a walker may actually delay this important milestone.




Additionally, sit-in baby walkers force a baby's legs into an atypical standing position that can negatively impact muscle development and affect the positioning of the hip joint.


They also encourage babies to walk on their toes, which can at least temporarily prevent them from developing a proper heel-toe gait or the necessary balance for independent walking.


Finally, learning to walk requires more than just leg strength—it also involves a baby's core muscles and balance. Baby walkers do nothing to strengthen core muscles and balance.



Baby push walker/activity walker/sit to stand walker

Push walkers can provide some assistance for babies learning to walk. They provide support for those tentative early steps and can help your baby strengthen their leg and core muscles.



The support that push walkers provide might help your baby gain confidence in their new walking skills.

However, push walkers (or any baby products) are not necessary for your child to learn to walk—babies have been walking for millennia with no help from toys at all!


Are baby walkers safe?

Safety also depends entirely on the type of walker. Sit-in walkers can present many risks for babies while push walkers are considerably safer for most children.


Sit-in walker

The very thing that makes sit-in baby walkers seem like a good idea is also what makes them potentially dangerous—they move! This newfound mobility allows babies to get to items and places that they otherwise would not be able to access.


Between 1990 and 2014, an estimated 230,676 children under 15 months old were treated in U.S. emergency rooms for injuries related to sit-in walkers.

These injuries included broken bones, brain injuries, lacerations, burns, and poisonings. This number does not even count children who were treated in other types of medical settings or those whose caregivers did not seek treatment.


You might think that you can closely supervise your baby and prevent accidents, but babies in walkers are fast!


They can move more than 3 feet in 1 second, making it difficult for an adult to intervene in time if they are in danger.

Due to these risks, manufacturers adopted voluntary safety standards in 1997 that required baby walkers manufactured after that year to have certain safety features. Walkers had to either be wider than a standard 36-inch doorway or have a braking mechanism to stop the walker if one or more wheels drop (such as by going down a step).


In 2010, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) mandated even tougher standards, including numerous safety tests for sit-in baby walkers.


As a result of these standards—and a related decrease in baby walker use—serious injuries from baby walkers have decreased significantly. In 1990 alone there were 20,650 baby walker-related injuries. By 2014, that number had dropped to approximately 2,100 injuries. This sharp decrease is primarily due to fewer falls on stairs.


However, even 2,100 injured kids is too many!


Either some parents are not aware of the risks or they mistakenly believe that using a baby walker will help their baby learn to walk sooner or provide a safe form of entertainment.


For this reason, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has called for a complete ban on the manufacture and sale of sit-in baby walkers in the U.S.

To help you understand why baby walkers are not a safe choice for your child, we'll briefly describe the ways that they can cause injuries.


Falls

The most common baby walker-related injury is falling down stairs.

Researchers from a 2018 study reported in Pediatrics found that the most walker injuries—74%—were caused by falling down stairs. Approximately 91% of children who experienced such a fall suffered neck or head injuries.


Children can also be injured if they fall out of the baby walker or it tips over.


Burns

A baby walker helps a child access other areas of the home and reach higher- up items, increasing the risk of burns.


When using a baby walker, a child might bump into a table or pull a tablecloth and spill hot coffee or other drinks, reach pot handles or turn on a stove, or touch radiators, space heaters, irons, or fireplaces.


Reaching unsafe items

Similarly, a child might be able to reach up and grab poisonous, sharp, or otherwise dangerous objects, such as medications, cleaning products, and kitchen knives.



Drowning

A baby in a walker can fall into a swimming pool (even a wading pool) or bathtub.



Baby push walker/activity walker/sit to stand walker

Push walkers are a safer alternative to sit-in baby walkers.

Babies can't zoom around in them—they must move at their own pace and can't get into trouble as quickly. Push walkers are also less likely to tip over.


However, you should make sure to choose a sturdy push walker that has a handle bar and is weighted to prevent tipping.


Especially stable wooden baby walkers:

  1. The Radio Flyer Walker Wagon

  2. Melissa & Doug Chomp & Clack Alligator Push Toy

  3. Brio Toddler Wobbler

  4. Haba Walker Wagon

Consider one with rubber wheels to prevent slipping on hard surfaces.



Distinguishing baby jumpers and activity centers from baby walkers

The AAP recommends activity centers as a safe alternative to sit-in walkers.

These toys also have a center seat and look similar to baby walkers, but have no wheels.



Baby jumpers are similar, but have suspended seats on springs that allow babies to bounce on their legs.



Because they are stationary, they do not present the same risks as baby walkers. In fact, an increase in use of activity centers is one reason for the decrease in sit-in baby walkers.


Activity centers allow a child to bounce and turn, which can build strength in a baby's feet, legs, and hips. They can also practice their balance without falling down.

However, an activity center can still hamper your child's development if you over-rely on it to contain and entertain your baby rather than letting them crawl and explore.


For this reason, you should limit the amount of time that your child spends in any type of contained device (including a play yard, bouncy seat, or stationary rocker) and make sure that they have plenty of independent floor time to practice their motor skills.



Other ways to help your baby develop walking skills

We get it—you, along with many parents, are eager for your little one to take those first steps! Fortunately, there are plenty of safe ways that you can help your baby develop the early skills needed for walking without using a baby walker.




1. Encourage floor time

Provide a safe floor area for your baby to explore and learn about their world. By crawling, rolling, and sitting they develop the leg and core strength, balance, and coordination that they will need for walking.



2. Encourage standing

Provide sturdy and safe areas for your baby to pull to stand and cruise around.


Move motivating toys to a higher surface level, like a coffee table or the couch to motivate your child to pull to stand to reach the toys and play in a supported standing position.

When they are comfortable cruising, encourage them to practice cruising between surfaces like a couch and coffee table.


Transferring between the two areas helps build confidence and balance.

3. Help them walk

Hold your baby's hands to support them while they take a few steps. This helps them learn and also builds their self-confidence.



4. Provide safe toys

There are many other toys that can help your baby prepare for and practice those first steps, while also keeping them safe.


4.1 Other push toys

There are a number of other push toys that can help to support your baby and encourage them to practice walking. Good push toys for early walkers might include toy shopping carts, baby doll strollers, or wagons.



Choose sturdy toys that have a wide base to prevent tipping.

Wooden toys are often heavier and sturdier than those made of thin plastic. You can also add weight to a push toy (for example, placing ankle weights or cans in a toy shopping cart) to make it heavier and sturdier.


4.2 Ride-on toys

Ride-on toys can help your baby develop their leg muscles while practicing balance and coordination. These toys have a low center of gravity and are less likely to tip over.


Choose non-motorized ride-on toys, such as a rocking horse or vehicle that your child can scoot.



Be sure to select a toy that allows your child's entire foot to touch the ground, not just their toes.

Make sure that your child uses any ride-on toy in a safe, contained space away from stairs.



4.3 Stacking toys

Stacking toys like cups and blocks can encourage your baby to stand and reach, building balance, coordination, and leg and core strength.


Just keep in mind that even safe toys still require adult supervision!



5. Offer praise and encouragement

Cheer your baby's process! This will help them build their confidence in their walking skills.


Just remember that every child learns to walk when they are ready and some may achieve this milestone later than others. If you are concerned that your baby is not walking yet, you should always consult with your pediatrician.





Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the best baby walker?

For sit-in walkers, even top-rated baby walkers are not a safe choice. Instead, consider a push walker with sturdy construction and a wide base to provide support and prevent tipping, plus an adjustable handlebar that can grow with your baby.


2. Are baby walkers banned in Canada?

Yes. In 2004, Canada instituted a ban on advertising, selling, and importing sit-in baby walkers (including used walkers) due to the dangers they present. The fine for violating the ban is up to $100,000. The ban does not apply to push walkers.


3. Why aren’t baby walkers recommended?

Sit-in walkers expose babies to dangers such as falls (especially down stairs), burns, drowning, and poisoning. They can also delay walking by limiting babies’ time for independent exploration and negatively impacting muscle development and gait. For these reasons, the AAP has called for a ban.


4. Are baby walkers good for babies?

Sit-in baby walkers are not a safe choice because they expose babies to dangers such as falls (especially down stairs), burns, drowning, and poisoning. Safer alternatives such as push baby walkers can provide support for babies learning to walk and help them develop confidence.


5. What are the disadvantages of baby walkers?

A baby in a walker is more likely to:

  1. Fall down stairs, resulting in head or neck injury

  2. Reach higher and grab dangerous objects like medications and kitchen knives

  3. Touch hot objects and get burned

  4. Have less time to practice independent crawling and standing

  5. Develop an abnormal standing position and hip rotation

  6. Develop an atypical gait

6. What can I use instead of a baby walker?

Other toys that can entertain your baby, develop their strength and coordination, and help them prepare for and practice those first steps include activity centers, sturdy push toys (like push walkers or toy carts), ride-on toys, and stacking toys.


7. Which is better: a walker or bouncer?

A bouncer (also called a jumper or activity center) is a much safer choice than a sit-in walker because it doesn’t move or expose a baby to hazardous objects and areas in the home. It can help build leg/core strength and balance–just limit the amount of time your baby spends in one.


8. At what age can a baby use a push walker?

Push walkers are best for babies who can pull to stand independently and hold themselves up with a little support. For many babies, this will happen between 9 and 12 months, but it varies by child.



The Takeaway

Sit-in baby walkers are neither beneficial nor safe for your baby's development. There are many safer, better options to support your baby’s journey towards walking.


Encouraging your baby to move around and explore their environment can help lay down the foundations of walking. You can also opt for a push walker or other push toys if you feel your little one is ready and wants to move around.


Just remember to provide a safe space for them to move and always supervise your baby's play. They'll be walking before you know it!



Sources:

  1. Cleveland Clinic, Are Infant Walkers Safe? Here’s What New Parents Need to Know, available at https://health.clevelandclinic.org/are-infant-walkers-safe/

  2. Krivova A.V., Sharov A.N. Baby walkers and the phenomenon of toe-walking. Pediatric Traumatology, Orthopaedics and Reconstructive Surgery. - 2018. - Vol. 6. - N. 1. - P. 23-32. doi: 10.17816/PTORS6123-32

  3. Schecter R, Das P, Milanaik R. Are Baby Walker Warnings Coming Too Late?: Recommendations and Rationale for Anticipatory Guidance at Earlier Well-Child Visits. Global Pediatric Health. 2019;6. doi:10.1177/2333794X19876849

  4. Sims A, Chounthirath T, Yang J, et al. Infant Walker–Related Injuries in the United States. Pediatrics (2018) 142 (4): e20174332. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2017-4332




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