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Study: Baby Walker May Delay First Steps

Infants who use the device are slower to crawl, stand, walk

July 01, 2002|LINDA MARSA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Baby walkers may keep curious children--and their parents--happy, but that peace and quiet comes at a price.

Use of the devices, in which babies are able to propel themselves about even though they can't walk or crawl, may delay an infant's normal motor development. In a study of 190 healthy babies, researchers at University College in Dublin, Ireland, discovered that those who used walkers were slower to crawl, stand and walk than children who didn't. They calculated that each 24 hours of walker use postponed the moment that a child could walk unaided by 3.3 days and stand unaided by 3.7 days.

Some previous studies had indicated that walkers encourage walking, exercise and mobility, but the new research confirms the results of a similar 1999 U.S. study.

"The importance of this research is that it dispels the myth that baby walkers help a child learn to walk--quite the opposite is actually the case," said Dr. Gary A. Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research at Columbus Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

The problem with baby walkers, say experts, is that infants can move around without carrying their body weight. Consequently, a child's muscles don't develop normally, and the nervous system is deprived of the sensory information required to learn how to walk. "The delays are not long lasting and kids do catch up," said Smith, who pointed out that infant walkers are also associated with thousands of injuries a year.

"A better--and safer--alternative is stationary activity centers that don't have wheels. Infants are occupied, but they aren't able to move around and get into trouble," he said.

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