Doctors Call For A Ban On Infant Walkers

by Valerie Williams
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Despite improvements in safety, kids are still being injured using infant walkers

Doctors telling parents not to use infant walkers isn’t new — the call to ban the popular item dates back to the early 1990s. But now, a renewed plea from pediatricians calls for the U.S. to stop selling them, and parents should listen up.

Dr. Benjamin Hoffman, the pediatrician who chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention, doesn’t mince words on his view of infant walkers. He tells NPR, “I view infant walkers as inherently dangerous objects that have no benefit whatsoever and should not be sold in the U.S..”

A study published recently in the journal Pediatrics lays out the case. Between 1990-2014, more than 230,000 kids under 15 months old ended up in the emergency room because of infant walkers with injuries such as skull fractures, concussions, and broken bones. The problem isn’t the walker itself — it’s the fact that it’s on wheels which can cause plenty of problems including a baby going down a flight of stairs while strapped inside of it.

As pediatricians have long warned about the dangers of infant walkers along with a consumer ban in 1992, the number of injuries did subside as manufacturers tightened their safety standards and parents simply stopped using them as much. The number of infant walker-related injuries went from 21,000 in 1990 to 3,200 in 2003.

In 2010, further safety requirements imposed by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission including brakes to prevent stair falls meant an even bigger reduction in injuries, but still — the issue persists. The study’s senior author and the director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, Dr. Gary Smith, says, “Despite this great success, there are still 2,000 children a year being treated for injuries, many of them serious injuries, in emergency departments.”

Smith also supports the idea of removing infant walkers from the U.S. market altogether. “Therefore, we support the position of the American Academy of Pediatrics that baby walkers should not be sold or used. There’s absolutely no reason these products should still be on the market.” He cites the fact that he’s treated babies who landed head first on concrete after falling down a flight of stairs while strapped in a walker as a reason for banning them completely. Dr. Jerri Rose, a pediatric emergency physician and professor at Case Western Reserve University Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, agrees saying, “They’re really not safe.”

Another study found that eight babies died from walker-related injuries between 2004 and 2008.

Smith also notes that a baby in a walker can travel faster than their parents can move. “Parents bought the myth that if they watched their children carefully they wouldn’t get into trouble,” Smith says. “But that was a myth.”

The authors of the study note that families not only continue to buy walkers, but also pass them down from one kid to another. Rose suggests stationary activity centers as a safer alternative.