ADVANCE For Physical Therapists and PT Assistants | News to Use | Walkers Stall Infant Development
Updated Nov. 8, 1999
Walkers Stall Infant Development
The use of baby walkers impairs infants' physical and intellectual development, according to new research published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics (Vol. 20, No. 5) and reported on by InteliHealth (www.intelihealth.com).
The study, conducted by researchers from the State University of New York, indicated that while walkers give babies who can't crawl the ability to move at a younger age, they also restrict infants' view of their moving legs—depriving them of visual feedback that would help them learn how their bodies move through space.
In addition, walkers prevent infants from exploring and grabbing at things around them, a key component to their early mental development, stated the investigators.
In the study, co-author Dr. Roger Burton studied the early mental and physical development of 109 infants. About half had never used a walker, a third used newer-style walkers that featured larger trays, and the remainder used older-style walkers that allowed infants to see their moving feet and grab at objects. The infants were tested at 6, 9 or 12 months of age—and again three months later—using a standard measure of physical and mental development.
Parents provided information on when the infants achieved developmental milestones, such as crawling.
On average, babies who used newer-style walkers sat upright, crawled and walked more than five weeks later than infants who had never used one, and three weeks later than those who had used older models.
Infants who used newer-style walkers also had the lowest scores on physical and mental development, scoring 12 percent worse on mental and motor skill tests than those who had never used one. Those who used old-style walkers scored five percent lower than those who had never used one.
Previous research suggests that walkers not only hinder development, but may also put infants at greater risk of injury. According to Intelihealth, half of the babies who use walkers are injured every year—about 4,000 end up at the hospital after they fall down stairs or into fires or heaters. When walkers fall, infants can also suffer head injuries, concussions or broken limbs.
Based on these findings, some experts, including Dr. Denise Kendrick of Nottingham University Medical School, Nottingham, England, are now calling for a ban on baby walkers.
"There is no evidence [that] they help in teaching a child to walk or in children's development," said Dr. Kendrick, who has conducted research on baby walkers.
"Baby walkers are unsafe. They seem to fulfill the needs of parents by keeping their children occupied rather than offering any benefit for the child."