Is there anything cuter than a baby that’s just learning to stand and walk? I mean, honestly. Their chubby little legs are wobbling under the weight of their chubby little bodies and they’re so happy because they’re so proud of themselves!
My baby started standing at 8 months, taking a step here and there at 9 months, and full on walking by 10 months. I’m, literally, chuckling to myself picturing the time my daughter stood up for the first time by herself. She was ready to zoom but those little legs weren’t working the way she wanted them to, yet! It must have been super frustrating. When I first put her in a baby walker, she was beside herself with joy! Her baby walker ended up being a lifesaver, but before I bought one I really wanted to make sure it was safe.
Baby walkers are plastic, mobile, baby stations. They are, usually, lightweight, affordable, and portable. They come in a full range of colors and styles (seriously, you can find them in plain black and white or actual human car-shaped) and fold flat for easy storage.
All of the big baby product brands make and manufacture them, so they can really be found at any store or website that sells baby gear. The concept of baby walkers is a simple one: you can place your almost walking baby into the seat and let them have a taste of freedom.
Since the walkers are on wheels, your baby can explore in a way that they previously could not. It’s an incredible source of stimulation (both mentally and physically) for your baby because their little legs are moving the walker and their brains are taking in all of the new things they can now see and have access to.
As a first time mom, I remember second-guessing every baby product that came my way after giving birth. Was it necessary? Would I use it? Would she use it? Was it too expensive? Was it safe? Would it hinder my kid’s development somehow? I was exhausted.
In the first year after my daughter was born, I spent money on a lot of products. Most of them were unnecessary, I have to admit. I definitely fell into the “first time parent” trap that makes it so that you feel like you need every product that is marketed to your child. One day you wake up and realize that you’re really using that one thing as a storage unit for all of those things and it is taking up way too much space. Sound familiar? I know. It’s okay.
Out of all of those products (that really just ended up being used as dust collectors, not going to lie), there were three that truly changed my life and made my parenting experience that much better.
What were those, you ask? I’ll tell you, my friends! The first one? A baby carrier. Duh. The second? A Munch Mitt. My kid went CRAZY over this when she started teething. (also, pro tip: freeze it so it’s cold. Feels good on the sore baby gums). The third? A baby walker.
When I tell you that my daughter would squeal with excitement when she saw her baby walker, I’m not even exaggerating. The baby walker was a lifesaver because I could put her in it when I needed to finish the dishes, pee by myself, or just not have a small human attached to my body for a whole 23 seconds.
I could put her in it and know that she really couldn’t do much damage (you know, besides terrifying our dogs by rushing toward them in a strange, spaceship-like, contraption). She wasn’t in it all day every day, she wasn’t even in it for an hour at a time, but ten minutes here and there really went a long way.
“But was it safe?”, you may ask. It sounds too good to be true, right? A lightweight, indestructible gadget that you can place your baby into so that they can get around without needing you to hold them? “There has to be a catch”, you say.
Well, just like anything, it really depends on who you ask. Believe me, asking someone else’s opinion is a slippery slope into insanity because everyone has a different opinion.
However, it is really important to weigh all risks and benefits of something when you are thinking about spending money on it. Especially if it’s something that you are putting your sweet little baby into.
Good news for you, though, I’ve done most of the work for you and I’m going to tell you a few pros and cons about the magic that is the baby walker. From this point on, I promise to be as unbiased as possible. Here we go!
How Safe Are Baby Walkers
According to an article by The New York Times, baby walkers pose numerable risks. To be fair, however, these risks occur when a parent isn’t doing their job as a parent. The article lists falling down the stairs and being able to reach hot or poisonous liquids as two of the main dangers of using a baby walker. Guys, I know I said I’d be unbiased…but, I mean, let’s use a little common sense here. Block your stairs and keep an eye on your kid so that they don’t somehow ingest any of those hot or poisonous liquids. Seems easy enough, right? You would think so. Not so in Canada, where baby walkers have actually been banned.
There is also some question about whether or not baby walkers cause developmental delays in babies. The concern is a logical one, right? I think so. When you place your baby into something that does the work for them, instead of letting them figure it out themselves, they will inevitably learn to do it themselves later than they would, had they originally been allowed to learn for themselves first. This concept is totally accepted and well known, so I’m not mad at it. What I find a little troubling with this idea, though, is that it is heavily dependent on just how much time your baby spends in the baby walker.
There was a study published on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website (by M. Garrett, A.M. McElroy, and A. Staines) that attempted to establish a connection between baby walkers and a delay in developmental milestones in children that spent their days in baby walker friendly daycares.
In the article, it is stated that the use of baby walkers should be discouraged. However, they also state that the delays were dependent on the time spent in the walkers. Again, this makes sense. The more time spent in something that does the work for you, the less time you spend doing the work yourself.
The authors and researchers of this article found that, for every 24 hours spent in a baby walker, actual walking was delayed by three days. In another study (one that was actually mentioned in the study by Garrett, McElroy, and Staines) written by Crouchman M, no evidence was found that there was a correlation between baby walkers and developmental milestones.
Do what you wish with that information, of course. One study says “Yeah, about those baby walker things…you probably shouldn’t use them because your kid will walk later than they would have walked had you never been such a terrible parent and bought that stupid thing”. The other says “Eh. It’s probably fine. I couldn’t find anything to prove that your kid will have all of these issues if you use it once in a while”. I’m only kidding…neither of those studies says anything that you just read, but you get the gist. What I’m saying is: take it at face value.
While I come from a pretty scientific background (my grandfather is a mathematician, my father is a mechanical engineer, and I have a Bachelor of Science in Psychology) that relies heavily on making decisions based on solid, researched, evidence, I also like to rely on personal experience to sway my beliefs.
The fact of the matter is that my two year old has had teeth since she was four months old, has been crawling since she was seven months old, has been talking since she was nine months old, and has been exclusively walking since she was ten months old. Want to know how many of those things were influenced by her using a baby walker? None of them. Surprising, huh? No, not really.
I pride myself on being able to use the (very basic) skill of common sense. What does that mean? That means that I didn’t use some contraption to babysit my kid. I didn’t leave her in it for hours and hours at a time while I just lollygagged around. I didn’t let her near stairs that she could easily fall down. I didn’t let her reach out and touch hot liquids or poisons (because we all have those just sitting out. Insert eye roll).
I practiced balance, moderation, and used my own (good) mama judgment when I made the decision to use a baby walker. Even the first published study says that the “delays” in developmental milestones are dependent on how long the baby is in a walker. So how about we just don’t leave our babies in a walker for the entire day? It’ll be fine. Either way. Your kid will walk. So what if it’s three days late? Believe me, you will regret wishing they could walk so quickly, anyway.
While we’re on the subject of your kid eventually doing all of these things, can I just take a second to rant? I hate this idea that something is wrong with our babies if they’re not doing things at the exact same time as every other baby on the planet.
Yes, while there should probably be a concern if your baby is two and still not walking, three days or three months “late” really shouldn’t be such a tragedy to anyone. To my core, I truly believe that having such a set timeline for your kid to learn how to do things (that they will naturally learn to do eventually) only causes anxiety in moms…especially first-time moms. And what is something that new, first time, mothers absolutely, positively, do not need? ANXIETY. Stop telling these mamas that there is something wrong with their baby if there is nothing wrong with their baby!!! Geez!!!!!!
*whew* deep breath, Desiree. Okay. Moving on…
The good news is that you’re probably a really amazing parent if you’re reading this article right now. I mean it. You’re worried enough about your child’s safety that you have come across this article in hopes that it will shed some light on whether or not baby walkers are safe.
Caring about the safety of your child is pretty darn cool, and it makes you a pretty great parent. If you are asking me, I’m telling you to use your best judgment. Like I said before, everyone and their mothers have an opinion about everything under the sun, especially babies and especially the products you use for your babies.
No matter what you do, you will not be pleasing everyone on this earth so you might as well just start listening to your own gut instinct and just do what feels right to you, mama. If you’re in Target one day and you come across one of those cute baby walkers in the shape of a Volkswagen Beetle, and you’re thinking to yourself “I’ve heard these are pretty cool, I think my baby would love this”, then just bite the bullet and get it. Practice common sense and don’t leave your baby in the walker for hours upon hours. Don’t let them near stairs (in general, but also in the walker). Don’t let them touch boiling water or antifreeze. They’ll be fine.
Are baby walkers safe? Bottom line: they’re just fine and dandy if you’re using them here and there and are still encouraging your child to hit all of those milestones by themselves. They’re not safe if you’re planning on leaving your baby in them for 6 hours while you watch TV and browse Facebook. Don’t let your kid near hot liquids or poison and don’t let them fall down the stairs. It’s really pretty simple. Go to town, mamas, and stop worrying so much. You’re doing great.