Walkers can be deadly for babies, finds a new study

Let them be Babies will learn to push themselves up, crawl, and later, walk  

It’s adorable to see an 11-month-old who’s just learning to walk, glide across the room in his walker, all smiles, hands flapping in glee. But that seemingly innocent walker, with all its colourful buttons and lights, could spell danger. The infant walker is something a lot of parents in India see as an important part of their baby shopping list. But what many don’t know, is that the so-called aid could land a child in the emergency room. According to a study published this month in Pediatrics, over 9,000 children were treated in emergency departments every year in the US from 1990 to 2014 for infant-walker-related injuries. From 2004 to 2008, infant walkers even caused eight deaths.

Why do parents buy a walker for their babies? Dr Gary A Smith, Director, Center for Injury Research and Policy, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus, who co-authored the study, says that many parents may believe baby walkers promote walking, but this has been disproven. He adds that studies have shown that baby walkers delay mental and motor development.

Walkers can be deadly for babies, finds a new study

Canada, in fact, banned baby walkers in April 2004. This was because the Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program (CHIRPP) found that there were 1,935 baby walker injuries reported between 1990 and 2002. The only country to do so, Canada also bans advertising and import of baby walkers, with defaulters facing a hefty fine. For 15 years before the ban, several retailers actually voluntarily came forward to avoid selling the product.

S Ranjhani, a mother of a six-year-old, is surprised that the baby walker is dangerous. “I used it for my baby when he was eight months old,” she says. This is more common than we imagine. In fact, Dr Smith says that parents don’t have the time to react to accidents relating to baby walkers, because babies can travel at speeds up to four feet per second on the implement. He says he commonly hears parents say ‘I was standing right there, but she moved so fast that I did not have time to stop her’ when they bring their child to the ED for walker-related injuries. “These are good parents,” he believes, “who were carefully supervising their children and using the baby walker as intended.”

Walkers can be deadly for babies, finds a new study

Families have been unknowingly putting their children at risk for centuries — Dr Smith says that baby walkers existed in some form in Europe as early as the 15th Century. According to the study, over 90% of the injuries resulted from a fall down the stairs. Apart from head or neck injuries, this even caused skull fractures.

What’s the alternative? Stationary activity centres without wheels. And good-old belly-time. Gary suggests leaving the child on the floor. As a part of the regular developmental trajectory, babies will learn to push themselves up, crawl, and later, walk. “Once a baby can sit, parents can roll a ball back and forth with her to practise balance and mobility,” he says. “Once she can stand, parents can offer fingers to hold and help with balance and encourage walking. Be patient. Every child has their own timeline for taking their first steps.”

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Printable version | Nov 22, 2021 10:51:54 AM |

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