The first step that a baby takes independently is a moment to cherish. Parents get really excited about this important phase in the little one’s life. They eagerly look forward to seeing the baby walk for the first time, especially when he starts grabbing things around the house to haul himself up.
Towards the end of the first year, babies are already curious to explore their surroundings and move around on the floor rapidly, crawling, rolling, falling and trying to stand up. Parents are always alert to capture the first walk and when it suddenly happens one day, the cameras and videos are out to freeze the precious milestone.
But can babies hit this important milestone of going from crawling to walking, on their own (with a little help from parents) or do they need external support? Is a walker necessary for children to learn how to take the first steps? There are different schools of thought regarding this and through this article, we help you make the right decision.
What Research Says
A study published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioural Pediatrics, ‘Effects of Baby Walkers on Motor and Mental Development in Human Infants’ analysed motor and mental development in 109 human infants, with and without the experience of using a walker, between the ages of 6 and 15 months. According to the study, babies who had used a walker, sat, crawled and walked later than infants who had no experience with walkers. They scored lower on scales of mental and motor development. Considering the injury data along with the developmental data, the authors of the study concluded that the risks of walker use outweigh the benefits.
Many busy parents use the walker as a device to keep the baby occupied or distracted for long so that they can finish their chores. Some experts believe that the upright position in which the baby moves while using a walker is unnatural and therefore, the normal walking process is hindered in this way. Moreover, movement in the walker is very fast, so if the child starts using it very early, he may not experience the natural process of standing, falling, hauling the body up and crawling.
Another study done by T J Coats and M Allen, which was published in the Emergency Medicine Journal reveals that baby walkers are significantly associated with injury in infants, presenting as great a hazard as road traffic accidents. “They convey no known benefit to the development and they increase the vulnerability of an infant, in particular with respect to unguarded stairs or fires and spilt hot liquids,” the researchers say.
Even if the parents want to use a walker for their baby, getting one a little late, towards the end of the first year, is a good idea.
“I would recommend parents to get a baby walker when the child is 10-11 month old and is able to stand. Introducing the walker once the child starts to stand on his own, is a good idea. If parents introduce the baby walker early when the baby is about six to seven months old, it interferes with the baby's sense of balance,” says Dr Jyothi Raghuram, consultant paediatrician at Columbia Asia Hospital, Bangalore.
Things to keep in mind while getting a baby walker
- The walker should be sturdy and have a good base so that it does not topple easily.
- Baby should be comfortable inside the walker and the feet should touch the ground while walking.
- Wheels of the walker should have a brake system to stop near incline or stairs.
- While leaving the baby in a walker, make sure the floor surface is flat and there are no barriers around.
- Keep the child away from stairs to avoid toppling.
- Baby should be able to move freely without friction.
Remember, getting a walker is not mandatory for your child to learn walking. Baby walkers are a good idea to keep the little one entertained when you attend to your work but their benefits in children’s motor development are not really proven. Decide wisely and enjoy the first little steps of your precious baby.