Step away from the baby walker, parents. That's what pediatricians are hoping to finally get across in their call for a ban on the manufacture and sale of these products.
It might seem cute for babies who can't walk on their own to propel themselves around the room on wheels, but those adorable moments are not worth the danger the devices put infants in. A new study published in the journal Pediatrics found that more than 230,000 children under 15 months old were treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments from 1990 to 2014 for injuries related to infant walkers. Most of the injuries (about 91 percent) were to the head or neck, and many (about 38 percent) were skull fractures.
Doctors have treated babies who have landed head first on concrete after tumbling down a flight of stairs, fell into swimming pools or spa tubs, or had injuries like burns from appliances that they wouldn't have had access to without the walker.
"Baby walkers give quick mobility—up to four feet per second—to young children before they are developmentally ready. Children at this age are curious but do not recognize danger," Dr. Gary Smith, the study's senior author and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital, told CBS News. "It only takes a young sibling to leave the door to the basement stairs open briefly for an injury to occur. A child in a baby walker would be across the room and down the stairs before the parent could respond."
The American Academy of Pediatrics and consumer groups have warned against the use of baby walkers for decades and even called for a ban in the 1990s. Shortly after, manufacturers adopted voluntary safety standards, which dropped the number of injuries down from 21,000 in 1990 to 3,200 in 2003. Then, in 2010, a mandatory federal safety standard by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission was put in place, including installing brakes to prevent stair falls. Injuries dropped an additional 23 percent over the next four years.
Even still, today, infant walkers are still sold by many major retailers, and hospital emergency rooms still treat more than 2,000 children a year for related injuries, many of them serious. So, doctors are again warning that the damage to children's brains and bodies just aren't worth it. In addition to that, while parents might think walkers can help speed a child's ability to walk, several studies show that baby walkers actually might cause developmental delays.
"We support the position of the American Academy of Pediatrics that baby walkers should not be sold or used. There's absolutely no reason these products should still be on the market," Smith told NPR.
Instead of baby walkers, pediatricians advise belly time or using stationary activity centers where babies can be entertained by being rocked or bounced without being mobile. Trust your babies to walk when they're ready.