Doctor Findings

Q.

D. J. from New York City asks the Consults blog:

I know some people use baby walkers to help young children learn to walk. Is it true that this may actually be harmful to developing bones and muscles?

A.

Pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene responds:

It’s so exciting to see a baby take the first step! When wheeled seats arrived on the scene that would allow babies to move around with their feet on the floor, parents and babies alike were delighted. Some parents still use these baby walkers to help their children learn to walk or to give them some exercise or mobility. Some use baby walkers almost like pacifiers for the legs: many babies seem happier when they are propelling themselves across the floor.

And let’s face it, sometimes parents need to get things done. Sometimes parents use walkers as a baby-sitter, to keep their baby occupied and entertained so they do other things.

Parents should know that walker use typically delays motor development – and that it delays mental development even more. Beyond this, walker use is dangerous.

Back in 1994, when baby walkers were still extremely popular in the United States, the Consumer Products Safety Commission declared that baby walkers were responsible for more injuries than any other children’s product. The types of injuries included head injuries, broken bones, broken teeth, burns, entrapment of fingers and even amputations or death.

Walkers allow mobility beyond a baby’s natural capability, and faster than a parent’s reaction time. Most of the injuries involve falls down stairs, but injuries can also come, for instance, from allowing reach to hot, heavy or poisonous objects. Today’s walkers are safer, but they are still hazardous – and of no benefit to the baby.

Canada banned baby walkers in 2004. Possession of a baby walker can lead to fines up to $100,000 or six months in jail. But in some countries, more than 75 percent of babies still use walkers– and the injuries continue.

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SEVEN DEADLY SINNERS

The most unsafe baby products.

You would think that products made for the most helpless (and most adorable) creatures would be rigorously tested by the government before they hit the stores. You would think, but you would be wrong.

Believe it or not, companies are not required to test most children’s products for safety before they are sold. The government only sets safety standards for four types of children’s products: car seats, pacifiers, toys and cribs. Everything else, including high chairs, strollers and monitors, can be placed on the market with no safety testing at all.

While the juvenile products industry issues voluntary safety standards, they are indeed voluntary. And though most manufacturers test their products, often the tests take place in a controlled laboratory environment. (And we all know a toy-strewn family room with a rambunctious toddler and a multitasking parent is hardly the same as a controlled laboratory environment.)

Until children actually begin using products, safety issues and product defects frequently remain undiscovered.

Eventually, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recalls most defective products. However, some dangerous products the CPSC refuses to ban outright, even though the American Academy of Pediatrics, consumer organizations and masses of parents beg the CPSC to oppose bans. Why? The benefit of protecting children is often weighed against the cost facing the children’s product industry. And, in many cases, big money equals big lobbies, which may equal heartbreak for families.

Yet, in order to do in-house banning, parents can discover what leads to dangerous products by studying recalls. To jump start your product safety expertise, here is my list of the seven most dangerous baby products on the market.

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Baby Walkers

By Peter Fysh, DC

The use of baby walkers has been a source of considerable investigation recently. Statistics collected at hospital emergency rooms and clinics show that baby walkers represent a cause of significant injury to the infant population.

The rationale for the use of walkers appears to be primarily as a child-care device. Every parent knows well the inquisitive mind of the crawling infant. Once infants start to crawl, they are able to thoroughly investigate their previously inaccessible world: exploring every available inch of floor space, and on their journey testing every found morsel in their path to see if it is food. For this reason, and perhaps with a desire to see their child reach the walking milestone, parents are placing their infants in what is now considered to be a very dangerous piece of childhood equipment.

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