Doctors call for ban on infant walkers

Alison Bowen
Chicago Tribune

To many parents, they seem like a safe and easy way for babies to get around, but infant walkers create so many injuries each year that the American Academy of Pediatrics called for a ban Monday, Sept. 17.

A new study released by the academy’s journal reported thousands of injuries. After checking emergency room visits for children younger than 15 months, the study showed more than 230,000 infant walker-related injuries between 1990 and 2014. From 2004 to 2008, according to the data, infant walkers were associated with eight pediatric deaths.

Dr. Nicole Colucci, a pediatrician who works in emergency medicine at Presence Resurrection Medical Center, said she’s seen these injuries throughout her career. Among the injuries cited in the study were lacerations, concussions and burns, and emergency room visits for falling, entanglement or being struck by an object.

The injuries: What happens most often is babies in the walkers are tipping over or falling down, causing head and neck injuries, Colucci said.

The study showed that 74 percent of injuries were from falling down stairs. About 91 percent of injuries were to the head and neck. Within the pool of children arriving in emergency rooms, 4.5 percent of kids were admitted, the study found; among those admitted, 38 percent had a skull fracture.

Allowing a child to move faster creates problems.

“If you’re in something with wheels, it definitely increases your speed, and then their weight and velocity can propel them to areas of injury that would be otherwise unanticipated,” Colucci said.

These walkers, typically used for children from about ages 5 to 15 months, she said, allow babies to reach places they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise – hot oven doors, sharp objects, a cup of coffee, even household poisons. They also make it easier for them to bump into things like table corners.

No benefits: Meanwhile, Colucci said walkers offer no benefits. They don’t help babies walk, she said, and in fact might delay walking.

“It’s not helping them developmentally at all, and possibly hindering the walking and core muscles and normal ambulating,” she said.

In recent years, improvements to walkers have decreased injuries, such as a 1997 standard that called for walkers to be wider than doorways. Still, Colucci said, enough of a risk remains that her advice to parents is to throw them out if you have them, and don’t even get one in the first place.

“The original thought is that it actually helps to keep the child more safe, but even with parents watching, there are still injuries,” she said.