Beware the baby walker - floor time is the best time!
The baby product market in Australia is enormous. As parents, we are surrounded by advertising messages that tell us we need to buy specific seats, bouncers, activity centres, walkers and more to give our babies the best opportunity for development. While some of these products can have other developmental benefits when used in moderation, most function as ‘containers’ by confining our babies to one position and limiting movement.
Why is this a problem? Time spent playing freely on the floor allows for movement of the whole body. This enables babies to develop strength in a wide range of muscles in the arms, legs, back and core. Floor time also provides an opportunity for tummy time, an essential foundation for gross motor skills. Furthermore, once babies can roll, being free to move encourages ‘free play’ (choosing what they want to play with) rather than waiting for toys to be passed to them. This is an important step in the development of cognitive and decision-making skills for later in life.
Walkers and activity centres are a classic example of where locking a baby into the one position can inhibit gross motor development. As parents, we can’t wait to see our child take their first steps so it is hard to resist the temptation to accelerate this process, however there is evidence that putting a baby in a walker can delay this from happening! Furthermore, they have also been shown to increase the risk of injury to the baby. Walkers take away from time spent crawling and playing freely on the floor. Crawling is an important milestone for the development of left-right brain coordination, upper body strength and core stability. While not every child will crawl, it is very important to maximize opportunity to learn to move around independently. The skills developed during rolling, crawling and transitioning between positions prepare the baby for walking – no walker or activity centre needed!
Bumbo chairs are another example of a ‘baby container’ that has the potential to be over-used. The Bumbo seat is designed to provide firm support to the lower part of the trunk, which enables babies to sit upright long before they can sit alone. Sitting upright can have wonderful benefits for a baby’s communication and social skills, and the firm support to the lower part of the trunk provides a stable base for hand play. However, the shape of this seat locks the baby’s pelvis into a position that stops important back and core muscles from working effectively. While it is ok to use this seat for short intervals, when used excessively it takes away from precious time moving around freely.
It can be hard to juggle looking after children while getting everything else in life done. There are times when we need to be able to put our baby down in a safe place and free up our hands to get other daily tasks done. It is during these times that it's tempting to reach for a positioning device like a Bumbo chair, baby walker or bouncer seat. Instead, try a sturdy play pen that meets Australia safety standards. This is a great alternative – you know that your baby is safe but they still have the opportunity to move around freely and develop their gross motor skills.
Australian Physiotherapy Association Advocacy Position – Baby Walkers
Garrett, M., McElroy, A.M. & Staines, A. (2002). Locomotor milestones and baby walkers: cross sectional study. British Medical Journey, vol. 324, no. 7352, pp: 1494.
Talebian, A. & Honarpisheh. A (2007). A study on the effect of baby walker on mean age acquisition of motor skills in infants. European Journal of Paediatric Neurology, vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 50.
Siegel, A.C. & Burton, R.V (1999). Effects of baby walkers on motor and mental development in human infants. Journal of Developmental and Behavioural Pediatrics, vol. 20, no. 5, pp. 355-361.