Witnessing your baby’s first steps is an exhilarating experience and it’s quite natural feeling the urge to support this important milestone by creating the perfect environment in your house.
Getting a baby walker is probably one of the first ideas you’ll get.
What if I told you how more than 230 thousand babies younger than 15 months were admitted to the ER between 1990 and 2014 due to walker related injuries to the body?
You’d probably call me crazy or just go bananas and warn all your friends about this dangerous child hazard of epidemic proportions.
What I would suggest is to go through this article and look beyond the numbers.
Yes, Canada banned ownership, sales, and promotion of baby walkers in 2004; and the Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued numerous safety standards targeted towards the production and usage of baby walkers since 1996, and the AAP is actively pushing for a statewide ban in the US.
That’s all true.
But, we must read a little bit more than just the headlines and go through all these reports to get a complete picture.
I mean, if baby Jesus could use walkers before learning how to walk on water or levitate, so can your baby.
There has always been some kind of baby walker on the market whether it was the 15th or 20th century, and I must admit it seems like safety wasn’t always such a big issue. Just look at the model on the picture in the sidebar.
We’re talking about an era where it was OK to pour a cup of 7Up to your 3-month-old toddler, so we need to take their libertarian view with a grain of salt.
I strongly support the idea of building children’s individuality through play rather than smartphones. Each piece of baby gear that doesn’t have a screen gets a plus in my book.
When you combine that with physical activity and improved development …
Where do I sign up?
That’s how I felt about baby walkers initially.
Heck, I even got a Vtech Alphabet Train for my 18 months old cousin.
He has a great time with it as we literally spend hours going through all the different animal and nature sounds.
It seemed to me like this is a great educational toy, but it did really little to support faster motor skills development, which was one of the main selling points like with any other walker.
That’s when I started thinking about things like:
- What are the most common injuries associated with baby walkers and how do they occur?
- When is the right time to start using a baby walker if any?
- Do baby walkers actually encourage proper development?
- How to pick a safe baby walker?
- What are some of the best baby walkers available?
My goal here isn’t to persuade you to get some toy that your kid can’t even use. I just want to understand why are baby walkers perceived as such a dangerous toy and whether there’s a safe option we can all use. But, the most important area that I wanted to cover was to see if walkers actually promote faster development in toddlers.
Every bit of data used in this article is taken from official articles published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, based on quantitative and qualitative research:
- Infant Walker Related Injuries in the United States (PEDIATRICS Volume 142, number 4, October 2018)
- Injuries Associated With Infant Walkers (PEDIATRICS Volume 108, number 3, September 2001)
Is there a better place to start this quest than in the belly of the beast – Canada.
Baby walkers aren’t banned in Canada
My thoughts at first were that if I explore a market where the product is banned I would find the most rigorous regulations and understand what makes a safe product.
We already mentioned how Canada banned the use and sales of baby walkers in 2010, so I decided to dig up the official Consumer Safety Product Act. This section in Schedule 2 focuses on baby walkers:
Baby walkers that are mounted on wheels or on any other device permitting movement of the walker and that have an enclosed area supporting the baby in a sitting or standing position so that their feet touch the floor, thereby enabling the horizontal movement of the walker.Canada Consumer Product Safety Act – S.C. 2010, c. 21 (SCHEDULE 2)
And boy was I right …
Canada basically prohibited the general conception of a baby walker of the average American. Four-wheelers with a trapping seat that can go in any direction were not gonna fly north of the border.
But this formulation, at least in my eyes, didn’t include walkers that the baby needed to push and didn’t have a seat.
To confirm this I started checking out some of the biggest marketplaces that have a huge selection of toys and operate solely in Canada.
This is how I’ll find the perfect baby walker, the holy grail among baby toys, but what if they are all really excluded? Will I need to throw away my cousin’s train? Damn, that will be hard.
You’ll probably be surprised to hear how 5 out of 6 online retailers offered baby walkers to all Canadians:
I got off the hook.
Let’s look at the more common models I’ve discovered and pinpoint some common features:
Baby walker features according to Canada standards
- Sturdy handle – Something your toddler can grab on to and push or pull the walker.
- One direction wheels – Wheels go in one direction, which makes it harder to make sudden turns and go rapidly fast. They are also bulky and their radius is pretty big, which makes them slower and easier to control.
- No seat – Literally none of the walkers featured a seat that traps the baby in the middle of the walker. Even if there was a seat it was either detached from the walker or in a shape that allowed the baby to sit and push the walker.
- Educational features & material – There is a huge emphasis on interesting educational features covering nature, numbers, and colors among other things that affect cognitive and motoric development. Materials used for production are either wood or high-quality child-safe plastic.
What are the most common injuries associated with baby walkers and how do they occur?
After crosschecking Canada regulations with the online offer of baby walkers I had a much clearer picture of what makes a safe product.
But what makes a product dangerous?
The sheer amount of available patient data and the quality of research on the topic in the US gave me the opportunity to answer all of my questions. I just needed to dig through reports and make conclusions.
Big number right? That is the number of babies younger than 15 months that went to the ER between 1990 and 2014 due to a baby walker related injury.
That’s 9227 injuries per year.
More than 95% of the injuries affected the upper body area (head, neck & arms), and caused:
- Soft tissue injury (50.5%)
- Concussion or CHI (26.5%)
- Laceration (10.1%)
- Fractures (5.1% – 55.4% skull fractures)
From the entire group a whopping 95.4% was treated and released, while only 4.5% were admitted. From those admitted, 37.8% of cases related to a skull fracture, and 29.2% had a concussion or CHI.
This was enough to force the US Consumer Product Safety Commission to publish a standard consumer safety specification ASTM F977-96 in 1997, which prohibited the sales and usage of walkers that are not wider than your door frame (36 inches) or have some kind of brake mechanism to stop the fall.
This later turned into a mandatory safety standard for infant walkers under section 104(b) of the CPSIA in June 2010, one of the more important legislations targeting product safety in the past couple of decades.
Baby walker injuries decreased significantly after 1997.
Baby walker injuries don’t represent the same level of threat like pre-1997, but it’s still important to know what makes a walker dangerous and how to choose a safe option.
But why did experts choose to focus on these specific measures and what made the legislation so effective?
When we understand this we’ll be a step closer to knowing which baby walkers are safe.
Falling down the stairs is the main cause of injury
The reason why there was such a huge focus on the width of the walker and its braking mechanism was in huge part connected with the scary percentage of injuries associated with falling down the stairs.
The results were astonishing.
The fact that 96% of stairway related incidents caused head or neck injuries that resulted in either soft tissue damage (54%) or concussion (30%), forced lawmakers to enforce these safety recommendations and turn them into legislation over the span of 15 years.
It’s also worth mentioning how 91.4% of all skull fractures also happened in an instance where the baby was trapped in the walker and fell down the stairs.
With the help of the general public and pediatric experts, the number of baby walker injuries was decreased by 84.5%, and the number of stair falling related injuries decreased by 91%.
Although the battle has been won, dangerous baby walkers are still available on the market. There are couple of situations that ensure they’re still a threat to your children’s safety:
- Old walker versions are still being sold or passed on – This becomes a rarity nowadays thanks to the growth of the market and the fact that almost 25 years have passed since the initial suggested set of safety recommendations.
- Each country complies with its own regulations – Manufacturers outside the US aren’t obligated to follow guidelines.
- Non-babyproofed living spaces – Baby walkers are used in areas that can be dangerous in a variety of ways like access to toxic materials.
Obviously falling down the stairs was the most common cause of injury, but what are some other ways babies get hurt using a walker?
Falling out of the baby walker
As babies become more independent and build up some muscle strength in their upper body, it will become much easier for them to try and leave the walker. That’s why falling out of a baby walker amounted to 14.7% of all injuries.
The nature of these injuries was similar to the ones after a fall down the stairs.
Only 2.8% of injuries were connected with proximity mechanisms, which isn’t a huge number, but what’s scary in this case is that 74% of these injuries happen due to contact with a heat source and result in a burn to the upper extremities.
Dangers that baby walkers bring
- Fall down stairs
- Fall out of the baby walker
- Access to a heat source
- Access to hazardous materials
What to look for when getting a baby walker
- Wider than 36 inches
- One direction wheels
- No trapping seat
Knowing all of this steered me into answering two important questions.
When is the right time to start using a baby walker?
Children aged between 7 and 10 months amounted to 68.3% of all walker related injuries. This is probably the most dangerous age to buy your infant a walker, but it’s also the most usual time when people start buying walkers.
The number significantly drops at 14 months, a period when babies tend to become more aware and stable, so a good rule of thumb is to track your baby development and include a walker in the mix once they start standing more comfortably on their own.
This makes the walker a real helper and not just a hole where you can place your baby for hours at a time.
Introduce a baby walker when your infant feels safe standing up and walking, and certainly after 12 months of age.
Everything before that is just too early in my eyes. Here’s how a 3 month year old baby looks in a baby walker:
How can this be right?
Do baby walkers support proper development?
Looking at this 3-month-old struggling in their walker made me consider whether walkers with seats support proper baby development and help your infant make their first step at all.
I mean it was already clear from legislation in Canada and the US how walkers with seats that move fast are dangerous, and it seemed like stroller/pusher types were the safer option, but I really wanted to know why were people still using them.
Although there aren’t clear results from conducted researches I’ve tried to gather as much data as possible and debunk few well established myths:
Myth A: If my baby starts using a walker early, it will start walking sooner.
Myth B: Baby walkers help with multiple development milestones including sitting, crawling, and standing.
The Truth: Your baby needs to figure out on their own how to first crawl, then sit and only after that they can play around with the idea of standing up and making their first steps. If you either place them in a hole with wheels before they can even crawl or give them a pusher they can hold onto before they can sit, you’re not doing them a favor.
Wait until your baby can fully erect on their own and starts wobbling around like a drunken dragon. Then, when they start feeling more in control of their body, get them familiar with a baby walker they can push.
The important part is that the walker has interesting educational features on the bottom so the baby is intrigued to kneel down and stand again.
Research: One research conducted by the British Medical Journal showed how walkers delayed some important development milestones like sitting and standing. The numbers showed how on average the baby fell behind 3 to 4 days on the usual development timeline for every 24 hours they’ve spent in a walker.
Myth C: Baby walkers enhance cognitive development.
Myth D: Baby walkers strengthen important leg muscles.
The Truth: Crawling is the single most important baby activity in their early development stages. By managing to overcome the obstacle of laying in a single place, babies connect the dots between criss-cross patterns in their brains through crawling.
This achievement allows them to develop crucial motor and perceptual skills that provide a better understanding of the distance between objects and depth of field. Failing to go through this process can cause issues with the perception of important concepts like the difference between in and out or on and under.
Besides crawling and walking slower than peers that haven’t used a seated walker, infants that used a baby walker also had poorer performance scores on the Bayley Assessment scale.
One of the biggest issues pediatricians hold with seated baby walkers is that they keep babies in an unnatural upward movement position, which interferes with their motoric development. You literally need to learn how to crawl before you can walk.
Baby walkers force an unnatural stance for your infant, which means they’ll start strengthening all the wrong leg muscles. Instead of learning how to walk, they’ll learn how to push against the floor and charge with their upper body. Feeling like there’s always some higher force that will keep them in that position.
This also mixes up their feeling for space and can affect coordination. If this isn’t enough, you’re also facing hip issues in the long run, when your child uses a seated walker. This isn’t connected so much with the anatomy of the seat or the way your baby sits inside the walker. It’s more related to the walking pattern you’re developing, which may affect the walking pattern once you take the baby walker away.
Research: This research conducted in Turkey, concluded how babies that used walkers developed improper walking patterns, from which toe walking was most common.
How to pick a safe baby walker?
After going through the conclusions of all of these researches I must admit my perception of baby walkers changed a lot. I now strongly believe they are still a great educational toy, but only when used properly.
Here are some tips to help you pick the best baby walker for your toddler:
Don’t start too early
Understanding what your baby needs is crucial. Allow them to build up to walking on their own by handling crawling and sitting. Promote as much belly time as possible up to 6 months as it’s crucial for proper motor and cognitive development. As soon as your toddler feels safe sitting on their own and starts exploring standing up, you can introduce smaller toys with wheels and maybe even a safe string he can pull.
At this moment your baby is ready for a baby walker, but I would suggest you don’t start off with the real deal up until they’re not fully aware of their new skill, the miracle of walking. You can start with a wooden horse with small wheels they can place between their legs or an interesting two-wheel stroller with a frog that blows bubbles.
This way they’ll feel comfortable operating the new machinery on their own and the scary process of making their first couple of hundred steps will become something they can’t wait to do.
Once they overgrow this initial walker it’s time to bring in the big guns. When getting their first serious four-wheeler, make sure you follow these suggestions.
Avoid seated walkers at all costs
Would you get your kid a Ferrari for their 16th birthday? Probably not. It’s the same situation with baby walkers with four all direction wheels because they can:
- Trap your baby in a situation where they start falling off the walker or down the stairs.
- Force them to develop an unnatural walking pattern focused on tiptoe walking.
- Provide them with fast and easy access to hot, toxic, and otherwise hazardous areas.
Instead, opt-in for a baby “pusher” rather than a walker, just make sure it’s interesting enough for your toddler and their game needs. Some of these safe options can come with a wagon, which is a good option, but it can be too much for small spaces.
One direction bulky wheels
Make sure the wheels on the walker are bulky and can’t go in all directions. Having a braking mechanism is a plus, this is usually a rubber surface on the wheels itself, but it isn’t a must.
Knowing the wheels on your walker can’t change the direction your baby is going so quickly will allow you to react on time if your toddler starts conquering dangerous terrains in your house.
Safe surroundings and lightweight design
Most accidents related to baby walkers include a fall down the stairs. The second most dangerous situation is falling out of the baby walker. Only after that, we can start talking about burns and pinches.
All of this is connected with either:
- The surroundings – Make sure there aren’t any stairs easily accessible to your toddler, and try to create a controlled environment where they can’t reach any hazardous sources like the stove or your laundry detergents.
- The design – Pick something your toddler can pick up and throw because you don’t want them to get trapped under a heavy walker or get pulled down the stairs due to its weight.
Following these tips will help you choose a perfectly safe and interesting baby walker for your kid.
What are some of the best baby walkers available?
You must keep a close eye on the overall growth progress of your baby and use the appropriate walker given their unique situation. The most important rule you should always adhere to is to allow them to crawl and sit before introducing any type of crawler.
5 to 8 months
Give your baby enough belly time so they feel comfortable enough to start crawling and sitting on their own. Depending on the development stage your child has entered, use some of these toys to only enhance your natural development.
Over 8 months
Once they’re crawling and sitting, it’s time to give them a little friend they can pull around the house. If you feel your cub is more advanced, you can try some simple lightweight walker.
Green Toys Wagon
Lilly Musical Push Along
Corn Popper Rattle
ETERLY Wooden Walker
No ratings available.
Sit-to-Stand Learning Walker
When you feel like they’re ready to start actively walking on their own and have “overgrown” their toys (they will still continue to play with them, don’t worry), it’s probably a good time to start using a more serious baby walker. Some guidelines to follow:
- Make sure there’s a braking system or a safety mechanism in place,
- Your baby feels comfortable with the size of their new toy,
- There aren’t any pinching elements,
- There are enough educational elements that cover shapes, colors, numbers, etc.
You won’t find the perfect fit, and each of the walkers on this list has some flaws, so make your decision based on the character and desires of your toddler.
Small Foot Play Station
- Perfect braking system.
- Lots of interesting features.
- Quality build.
- It can take around 45 minutes to assemble.
- The top cover can pinch your baby.
Perfect Age: 14 months
Best For: Toddlers that have made their first steps and are ready for new challenges connected with shapes, colors, numbers, and letters. It can act as a game-time station for twins and siblings.
Baby Einstein Discovery Buggy
- Adjustable wheels to control speed.
- Gears move as toddler walks.
- Easy setup.
- Useful educational elements.
- None reported.
Perfect Age: 10 months
Best For: If your baby doesn’t feel secure enough on their feet, this is the perfect walker to help them make the switch from crawling to walking.
HABA Walk Along Tool Cart
- Delivered fully assembled.
- Adjustable wheel resistance.
- Long-lasting quality built.
Perfect Age: 10 months
Best For: Kids interested in building stuff and helping around the house will enjoy this simple yet sturdy wooden walker.
Radio Flyer Classic Walker Wagon
- Minimalist classic design.
- Adjustable speed.
- Great crawler as well.
- Wooden sides aren’t super strong.
Perfect Age: 12 months
Best For: This is a great toy for twins or siblings that are only a couple of years apart.
Chomp & Clack Alligator
- Interactive design that encourages walking.
- Braking mechanism.
- Too lightweight for some toddlers.
Perfect Age: 8 months
Best For: Babies that don’t feel secure on their two feet and need something to hold on to while also being in control of the situation.
Small Foot Play Station
- Stories, animals, numbers and other voices included.
- Two parts: train and wagon.
- Quality build.
- No braking system
Perfect Age: 14 months
Best For: Feed the adventurous spirit of your little cub by providing them with a safe transportation vehicle for the yard.
We’re a couple that’s expecting our firstborn son, so researching the benefits and dangers of baby walkers was a truly educational experience. We hope you’ll find everything you were looking for in this article, and if you find any mistakes or have suggestions to make this an even better post, don’t hesitate to write in the comment section or contact us directly.