Nearly a quarter-million infants younger than 15 months were treated in emergency departments for injuries caused by baby walkers from 1990 and 2014, and more than 10,000 of those injuries were serious enough to land them in the hospital, according to new research published in the journal Pediatrics.
“Baby walkers remain a serious and preventable source of injury to young children and should not be used,” urged Dr. Gary Smith, senior study author and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
Baby walkers give infants who cannot walk on their own the ability to move from one place to another. The devices have an open base with wheels holding up a suspended fabric seat. Infants can use their feet to push the walker from place to place. But giving babies not developmentally ready the freedom to cruise around has caused serious injuries including head injuries like skull fractures and concussions, burns, poisonings and drownings, researchers found.
To help reduce the risk of injury, some manufacturers widened the base of the walkers so they couldn’t fit through standard 36-inch doorways. Others added a safety feature that automatically engages a brake if one of the wheels drops off the edge of a step. But injuries were still reported.
In 2004, Canada banned baby walkers. The American Academy of Pediatrics called for a ban of the devices in the U.S. No ban has yet been enacted. But in 2010, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued standards that enabled the organization to prevent noncomplying walkers imported from other countries from entering the marketplace.
“Many families still use baby walkers despite being aware of their potential dangers,” Smith cautioned. As for parents who think the devices promote walking, he argued, the truth is the devices may actually delay mental and motor development.