According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there is no safe infant walker. More than 20,000 infants were injured while using one in 1995. Even after safety precautions were made, nearly 9,000 injuries continued to occur four years later.
According to Gary A.Smith, MD. DrPH, director at Children’s Hospital in Columbus (Ohio), the most common walker mishap is when the baby falls from the walker. He also said that the baby often falls out of the walker onto their head, which can lead to serious injuries. Three out of 10 head injuries result in fractured skulls.
Smith claims that 11 infants were killed in walker-related incidents between 1989 and 1993. Four of these deaths were caused by drownings in which babies who had been walking on walker slipped into a pool or toilet.
Although it may seem like these accidents were caused by parents being negligent, most parents pay attention, but are not fast enough to stop injuries.
What speed can babies walk in a walker with ease? Tests show that babies can move up to four feet per second. She is a senior market manager at Graco Children’s Products, Elverson, Pa. a major manufacturer of infant walkers.
Smith states, “A child moving so fast can’t be stopped by the best parent,”
Friede acknowledges that parents may not be able to intervene. However, Friede says that her company now makes walkers with special brake mechanisms that stop the walker when the wheel leaves a flat surface such as the top of stairs, or when it begins to tip.
To develop these new safety standards, the child product industry collaborated with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and pediatricians. She states that all walker sales after December 1996 must meet the new braking requirements to be eligible for an ASTM safety seal.
Friede agrees that improving a walker’s braking will not prevent accidents like scalding injuries, burns from stoves or shocks from electric cords. She says that the walker must be used in a safe environment. Each Graco walker comes with safety information.
Smith states that there are more things parents should know. Don’t let your baby think that an infant walker will make it easier to walk. “Actually, the muscles that propel the walker are different from the muscles needed to walk. Smith claims that infants who use walkers and those who don’t have any effect on their ability to crawl and sit suggest that they may be slower at walking than babies who don’t. He says that this slow development is temporary.
In the September issue of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics published its latest recommendations regarding infant walkers. Smith was a member on the committee that drafted these new recommendations. He stated that pediatricians are still opposed to infant walkers, but that parents should insist on mobile walkers if they want one that meets the new safety standards.
Smith says that a stationary playstation that looks like an infant walker, but doesn’t have any wheels, is a better option. Friede’s company also makes stationary playgrounds, but they are more expensive than mobile play centers that move around. They can cost anywhere from $19.99 to $59.99.
Karen Hardingham, RN coordinator for the SAFE KIDS Coalition at University of Maryland Hospital for Children, Baltimore, states that the best place for a baby is on the ground. “The baby cannot fall from the floor.”
Hardingham is gearing for September’s “Baby Safety Month”. She points out that babies are not built for upright mobility.
She says, “They are very heavy.” She adds that their heads are larger than their bodies, and it is easy for them to tip the walker over.