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Growing Concerns (03/01/2006)
By Dr. Martha Erickson

A parenting column with Dr. Martha Erickson

of the University of Minnesota

Question: Some older friends gave us a walker they had when their child was a baby. My baby likes to be in it and it really gives me some free time to get household chores done"a rare opportunity for me. However, my mother says it's dangerous to use because she heard of someone whose baby tipped over and was seriously injured. I think she's being overprotective and melodramatic. Who's right?

Answer: Although I understand your eagerness to find ways to entertain your baby while you get some work done, I'm afraid your mother is right on this one. Walkers were very popular some years ago, but now health and safety experts strongly advise against them. When walkers were widely used, thousands of babies suffered significant injuries in them each year. The most serious accidents, often fatal, involved rolling down open stairways. Other injuries resulted from tipping over or pinching hands between the edge of the walker and a doorway or piece of furniture. Especially dangerous are older walkers that have narrow wheel bases and tip more easily. Safety experts say walkers are dangerous even when a parent is nearby, but the danger is compounded when parents use the walker as a "babysitter" while they do other things.

Several manufacturers have come out with new alternatives, sometimes called stationary walkers. These allow the baby to be in that upright position, but they have a wide, secure base and do not actually roll. However, for several reasons, most child development specialists do not recommend even these. First of all, parents sometimes use walkers because they believe that exercising the legs in that upright position will help the baby learn to walk. However, walkers do not help -- and even may delay -- independent walking. Babies learn to walk best by being allowed to play on the floor, scooting, crawling, pulling up on furniture, "cruising" around low tables and couches, and finally taking those first independent steps. Walkers may interfere with that progression. Also, these newer stationary walkers are usually quite expensive and offer very little value for the dollar.

So that answers your question about walkers, but it doesn't solve your dilemma about how to get your chores done. Babies do indeed need almost constant care and attention, and that can be exhausting for parents. So, for now, accept all the help you can get from friends and family, trade childcare with another parent to buy yourself some time, and perhaps relax your standards a bit in terms of household chores. Before you know it your baby will be heading off to school, and you may even find yourself longing for these good old days! 


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