Despite their popularity among parents, an estimated 8,800 infants are treated in hospital emergency departments in the United States for injuries associated with baby walkers every year. Since 1973, thirty-four infants have died in walker-related accidents. Common injuries associated with baby walkers are falls down stairs and head injuries. Ironically, walkers not only do not help a child learn to walk; they can actually delay normal motor and mental development. Warning labels, public education, adult supervision during walker use, and stair gates have not been effective in reducing injuries associated with baby walkers. As of June 30, 1997, a voluntary safety measure was enacted requesting that all walkers be wider than a 36-in doorway or have a braking mechanism designed to stop the walker if one or more wheels drop off the floor, like at the top of a stairway.
What are Baby Walkers?
A baby walker, or infant walker, is made of a wheeled base that supports a rigid frame. The frame holds a fabric seat with leg openings and usually a plastic tray. Walkers are designed to support a pre-ambulatory infant, whose feet can rest on the floor and push while they are learning to walk. Some walkers come with bouncing mechanisms, activity toys, or locking devices that keep them from moving, and some fold flat for storage.
It is estimated that 3 million baby walkers are sold in the United States annually and that between 55 percent and 92 percent of infants use a baby walker. Parents say that they use walkers to keep their child entertained, encourage walking, provide exercise, and to hold the baby during feedings. One third of parents actually said that they use a walker to keep their baby safe.
Baby Walker Injury Data
- Approximately 8,800 children under the age of 15 months were treated in hospital emergency departments in 1999 for baby walker injuries.
- That was actually a 56 percent decrease in baby walker injuries since 1995 when 20, 100 injuries were reported.
- Thirty-four deaths associated with baby walkers were reported between the years 1973 and 1998.
- Population surveys indicate that there may be as many as 10 times more injuries as reported but that are minor enough that they are treated at home or in a doctor’s office.
- Parents report that 12 percent to 40 percent of infants who use walkers obtain an injury at some time from their use.
Recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics
1. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a ban on the manufacture and sale of mobile infant walkers because of the considerable risk of major and minor injury and even death from their use.
2. Parents should be vigilant about using walkers that meet the safety recommendations set in place in 1997.
3. Efforts should be made by government, media campaigns, and physicians to educate parents about the hazards and lack of benefits of walkers. The particular risk of walkers in homes with stairs should be emphasized.
4. Even if walkers are banned at some point, community programs should be developed to encourage proper disposal of walkers so that they can be destroyed and recycled.
5. Licensing Agencies should not permit the use of walkers in approved child care centers and homes. Hospitals should not permit the use of walkers in their facilities.
6. Stationary activity centers should be promoted as a safer alternative to mobile walkers.
7. The CPSC should closely monitor the compliance of infant walker manufacturers with the voluntary standard ASTM F977-96 to ensure that non-complying walkers do not continue to be manufactured and sold.
8. The CPSC should collect surveillance data on children injured while using walkers that are in compliance with ASTM F977-96.
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