Health Authorities Warn Parents Against Use Of Baby Walkers And Exercise Jumpers

Tired parents are desperate for a break, but should it be at the cost of their child's safety and physical development?

Australian health authorities have issued a warning against the use of baby walkers and exercise jumpers over fears they could cause injury and developmental delays.

SA Health and Kidsafe today launched a campaign to raise awareness among parents of the dangers associated with the use of either piece of equipment. These include allowing children to potentially put themselves in dangerous situations, damage to developing leg muscles or trapping fingers in the springs of jumpers.

Walkers Still Contribute To Child Injury

While some parents might use walkers as a form of respite, where the wheeled- object secures their bub in one spot while they do other tasks, there have long been warnings from physiotherapists and child safety groups that baby walkers cause more harm than good.

A study published in the journal Pediatrics in September this year found between the years 1990 and 2014 about 230,676 U.S. infants were treated for injuries related to baby walkers.

The study found that walkers were typically used by infants aged between five and 15 months and because the walkers have wheels they give children who can't walk mobility they are not ready for.

This means that young children can move themselves into dangerous situations.

The study said that most injuries happen when children fall down stairs while in a walker and that a whopping 90.6 percent of children hurt sustained head or neck injuries.

According to Executive Officer of Kidsafe NSW Christine Erskine, these risks with child walkers also exist in Australia.

"The main injures are falls or something toppling on them," Erskine told ten daily

"They grab the furniture or they grab something hot or electrical -- like TVs or grasping power cords or grabbing hot food and drinks.  And poisoning, like getting into the cupboard under the sink or under the dishwasher that have poisonous substances."

Erskine said ensuring a child's play and home environments are age appropriate is essential to avoiding "preventable injuries".  She said play pens or bouncer seats offer children a better chance to develop gross motor skills, while their parents can do other tasks in the knowledge their child is safe.

Child walkers mean children can access dangerous objects like electrical devices. Image: Getty Images.

"[Bouncer seats] are not wheeled so they just bounce and there are also stand-up play pens where they are not just taking off," Erskine said.  

Walkers Can Prevent Infant Hip Development

Physiotherapist Jacqualyn Bresnahan also said play pens are a far better option for children from a developmental perspective. Bresnahan told ten daily that baby walkers can slow the development of hip joints in some children.

"What often happens is parents will put their kids in a walker because they think ‘my child is getting an hour of standing time’ and to the parents it looks like they are walking," Bresnahan said. 

"You are actually born with the hip joint being flat and you only develop that joint by standing."

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Aiding children as they attempt to stand and letting them pull themselves up from a seated position are two examples of how the hip joint is developed and strengthened.  Walkers do not aid this process.

Using these baby walkers, there is a higher risk of developing hip issues and it can affect gross motor skills instead of learning to stand with the correct muscles. 

"[In the walkers] they are just learning to scoot with their legs rather than learning the proper motion of walking and shifting weight from one leg to the other, "she said. 

Bresnahan acknowledged that all parents need time to do other tasks and said they should consider their reason for using a baby walker.

"If it is more of a respite thing, getting a play pen where they can pull up on the edge of the pen and look out is a good option."

Using a play pen means parents can have time to themselves, while knowing their infant is safe. Image: Getty Images.
Australian Standards Demand A Brake To Stop Kids Falling Down Stairs

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) first introduced safety standards for baby walkers back in 2002, which were then updated in 2013.

The safety standards state that all walkers must contain a braking mechanism to stop the walker falling down stairs and that the walker must be tested to prevent it from tipping over.

"Infants can suffer serious injuries, such as head trauma and fractures, if a baby walker tips over or falls down stairs. Unsupervised infants in baby walkers can also gain access to potentially hazardous areas they normally couldn't reach," an ACCC spokesperson told ten daily.

"The baby walker safety standard includes specifications for the stability of devices and requirements for mechanisms to prevent devices from falling down stairs."

Contact Siobhan at skenna@networkten.com.au