It’s that time of year when the weather is getting colder, nights are longer and parents start to look online and in aisles of stores for presents for their kids. If you have a baby or are shopping for someone with a baby, you might be eying a new walker or stander to teach your baby how to walk and stand. Before you take one home, there are a few things that you might want to consider.
Babies typically start to stand on their own at 10 to 11 months but can stand as early as 8 months and as late as 15 months. Before a baby starts to stand, it is important for them to develop the necessary muscle strength in their hips, legs, trunk and neck to be able to hold their own weight. Babies build up their strength through continuous practice with rolling, sitting and (most importantly) crawling as they explore their environments. These activities also help develop the other parts of their little bodies that are involved with walking such as their vision, proprioception (learning where their bodies are in space) and problem solving skills.
There have been many studies on the use of baby walkers which have shown that walkers can increase a child’s risk of injuries, mainly by falling down stairs or allowing access to dangerous objects that they normally can’t reach. The walkers themselves can teach babies an abnormal walking pattern since they have to lean forward to push the walker. The tray around the walker blocks valuable input to the baby since they aren’t able to see what their feet are doing. The American Academy of Pediatrics has placed a ban on baby walkers since 2001 in their Pediatrics Journal and in Canada, it is even illegal to purchase a baby walker.
DO NOT GET A BABY WALKER!
No Wheels Allowed!
Exersaucers or stationary standers are safer than walkers but their use should also be carefully monitored and limited. If not positioned properly, a baby might learn to stand on their toes and excessively straighten their legs to touch the ground. Parents should make sure their baby has developed the necessary head and trunk control to be able to maintain a standing position by not placing them in an exersaucer too early. A stationary stander can be used for short periods of time as a good break for both baby and caregiver. Look for a stationary stander that allows the baby to rotate around to explore more of their environment. But keep in mind that standers should not be used to teach babies how to stand and it is more important for your baby to be able to move around freely than to be kept in one position.
USE ONLY FOR LIMITED TIME AND WITH CAUTION!
Legs without wheels!!!
At home, parents can make it safer for babies to explore by:
• Having sturdy objects available that they can pull up to stand and cruise around that won’t tip. You should secure large pieces of furniture that may fall if your baby tries to pull on them.
• Padding sharp corners of furniture in case of tumbles.
• Including a soft surface on the ground for those rough landings, such as a rug or foam playmat squares.
• Moving any unsafe objects well out of reach and placing appropriate toys that they can play with in standing.
• Keeping an eye on your little ones as they start exploring their new world in an upright position.
If your child is still resistant to bearing weight on their legs when you place them in standing as they get older or you start to notice any abnormal movement patterns such as using only one side of their body or increased stiffness or looseness in their joints, please bring up these observations to your pediatrician so they can provide a thorough examination of your baby. And as always, if you have any questions about this topic or concerns about your child’s development, we invite you to please contact the pediatric physical therapists at Los Gatos Orthopedic Sports Therapy/Kids’ Perspective Physical Therapy.