'Children not progressing on to crawling': Concern over use of baby walkers

Some physiotherapists have opted to speak out after seeing firsthand issues such as pointed toes and physical development delays.
'Children not progressing on to crawling': Concern over use of baby walkers

A CORK health professional says it is vital to highlight potential issues that can be caused by baby walkers amid claims they are leaving children requiring extensive physiotherapy.

A CORK health professional says it is vital to highlight potential issues that can be caused by baby walkers amid claims they are leaving children requiring extensive physiotherapy.

Some physiotherapists have opted to speak out after seeing firsthand issues such as pointed toes and physical development delays.

Canada has a complete ban on the sale and manufacture of baby walkers and the HSE advice is not to use them. However, physiotherapists across the country have warned that they are still seeing infants severely affected from a physical development perspective as a result of the devices.

Edel O’Leary from Edel O’Leary Paediatric Physiotherapy in Carrigtwohill said that some parents are still under the impression that a baby walker will help speed up their baby’s physical development. Ironically, Ms O’Leary said that baby walkers have the opposite effect.

While the devices are not as popular in recent years, she said that parents are still presenting with concerns directly related to baby walkers. Pointed feet and neurological tightness are among the issues infants are at risk of if regularly using a baby walker.

“I don’t think this has ever gone more public than physiotherapists showing concern,” she said. 

“Parents often perceive baby walkers as safer because they are off the floor. They also allow parents to keep a closer eye on their child.

“However, from a development point of view it means they spend less time on the floor. They are not working on their rolling or coming up into a sitting position. They’re also not progressing on to crawling.

“For some children it is possible for them to end up with a neurological tightness. Sometimes they’ll need to see a consultant or have a release done. While this is uncommon it is still a possibility."

Muscle memory

According to Ms O’Leary, muscle memory from baby walkers can have a significant impact on the infant.

“Oftentimes their height is not in line with the baby walker which means their feet don’t touch the ground as much,” she explaned. “They are not adjustable in height so it’s a one size fits all approach. If an infant is shorter or put in a walker too early they have to point their toes significantly to get the pull to be able to move. If they are doing this repeatedly, they are going to be building the memory. This means that even if they are not in the walker they are going to be pointing their toes. Over time, this can result in the calf muscles becoming quite short because they are using one muscle group predominantly. This isn’t a natural way to walk.

“There is also a more dangerous side to baby walkers where children have fallen down steps and sustained serious injuries.”

She said that a child should never have to walk before they are ready.

“Before walking you have to master all the other building blocks that happen on the floor. Walking is pretty much a reflex once you have the strength to get up into standing and a bit of balance. There is no need for an infant to practise walking until they are ready to walk. Generally, parents are coming to me because their child hasn’t started walking or going to stand up.

“I don’t think many people realise that when they use a baby walker they are taking away from their development progress. Not every parent has access to the same information or can break it down in the same way so it’s important there’s as much education on this as possible.”

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