What makes mobile walkers dangerous? Experts say their very design helps kids move easily - often much too easily for them to sustain serious injuries.
"About three million baby walkers are sold in the United States each year. They are generally used in the 2- to 4-month period after a child can sit up and before he can walk without assistance. But by giving a child added height, a walker suddenly brings him within reach of hazards such as boiling pots, electric irons and unprotected electrical cords. And kids in walkers travel so fast - three or four feet a second - that even the most attentive parents may not be able to avert disaster," said Diana Willensky in American Health magazine.
"Babies in walkers plummet downstairs, turn over in walkers that are snagged by cords, door thresholds, and carpet edges, roll themselves against hot wood stoves and heaters, fall over concrete curbs, or tumble into swimming pools. Parents should be particularly wary of old-style x-frame walkers that are still being sold in garage sales. These designs have been responsible for many injuries, including finger amputations when a baby's hand got caught in the closing x-joint of the frame - such models should be discarded," added Sandy Jones and Werner Freitag in Consumer Reports' Guide to Baby Products.
The length of time your baby spends in a walker determines how prone he or she is to accidents. In general, the risk of accidents increases in kids who spend an hour or more a day in them. Most accidents occurred in the early afternoon when only one parent was away.
Parents often purchase a walker in the belief that it will help their child walk sooner. Fifty percent of walker buyers had this impression but the facts say otherwise.
Rather than help your baby walk, walkers may make things difficult for your child. Freitag, who has developed safety standards for baby products for the American Society for Testing and Materials, said walkers may "interfere with needed pulling up, crawling and creeping experiences" of babies.
This was proven by a study that showed that the leg actions of babies who used walkers differed greatly from those who didn't. In that study, babies who spent a considerable time in walkers had stiff legs and shorter steps. They also leaned forward more than children who learned to walk on their own. In another study involving twins, the baby who didn't use a walker started walking two weeks earlier than the one who used the device for two hours every day.
"Studies are showing that not only do walkers not help babies to walk sooner, they may even impede the walking development of babies who have motor deficits by teaching them abnormal moving patterns," Jones and Freitag said.
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