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All you have to do is walk into a baby store or attend a baby shower and one item is sure to always be found: the baby walker. Approximately 50 percent of infants will use these man-made upright vehicles (1). And when you ask any young parents about their opinion of the baby walker, it is clear that they believe that these walkers are a Godsend. Ideally, parents see their happy upright infant, capable to travel and staying entertained for numerous hours a week in their environment. What could be better?
What do the studies suggest?
Siegel and Burton published an article in the Journal of Developmental Behavior where they conducted a study of 109 infants' between the ages of six to fifteen months (2). The study compared users verses non-users and analyzed their motor and mental development. The data concluded that infants who used walkers, also sat, crawled and walked late, and scored lower on the Bayley scales of mental and motor skills than the non-walker group.
Crouchman studied 66 infants, divided into three groups according to length of time spent using the baby walkers (3). It appeared that there was no difference between all three groups with the onset of sitting or walking. However, infants in the higher-user group revealed a significant delay in the onset of prone locomotion compared to the low or non-user groups. The study suggested that the exposure of some infants to excessive use of the baby walkers might alter their ability to engage a pathway of normal locomotor development.
Garrett, et al studied 190 infants, of which 107 infants used the baby walkers (4). The average usage time period was 26 weeks. The study revealed that achieving crawling, standing alone and walking alone occurred later in the baby walker group. They concluded for every 24 hours of baby walker use, there was an associated delay of 3.3 days of walking alone and 3.7 days of delay in standing alone. Another study of a set of six twins revealed apparent adverse electrophysiological changes of those six infants using the baby walkers, compared to their twins who were non-users (5).
Engelbert et al presented the cases of two patients who used infant walkers during the time that they were walking (6). These two infants were noted to have developed a disharmonic and delayed motor development, contractures of the calf-muscles and motor development mimicking spastic diplegia.
Not all studies support that developmental delay will occur when there is the usage of the baby walkers (3). One study analyzed 15 pairs of twins suggesting that the use of baby walkers did not influence the onset of independent walking (7).
When comparing studies, there appears to be more evidence to suggest that baby walkers interfere with the natural process of locomotor skills and may be a cause of developmental delay. There is a definite need for more studies, which should include larger group sizes and randomized control trials over previous observational or questionnaire based studies.