“If you’re thinking about getting an infant walker, don’t,” says Dr. Ben Hoffman, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. It turns out infant walkers — specifically those saucer-shaped ones with wheels that let babies toddle around a room before they know how to walk, not the kind toddlers can push around once they are already mobile — are rather dangerous. That’s supported by a new study, published in the journal Pediatrics this month; Dr. Gary Smith, founder and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy, of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and his team looked at baby walker–related injuries across the United States and found that about 230,000 children were treated in the ER during that time period.
The biggest concern with baby walkers is falling, says Dr. Hoffman. “The most severe injuries tend to result from falls down stairs and off of desks, but there is still a significant risk even on flat surfaces, just with tip-overs,” he says. Both Dr. Smith and the AAP, as an organization, are calling for a nationwide ban on the sale and manufacture of infant walkers. “The take-home message is if you’ve got one, get rid of it. Take the wheels off and dispose of it,” Dr. Smith says, and Dr. Hoffman wholeheartedly agrees. But taking away your kid’s infant walker doesn’t mean you have to take away your kid’s ability to bounce up and down. “Kids like that kind of motion, so something like a stationary activity center, which looks like a walker but doesn’t have wheels, is a great alternative,” says Dr. Smith. In a paper from 2001, the AAP also recommended stationary activity centers as a safer alternative to infant walkers, though it stopped short of endorsing specific products.
Instead, for developing infants, Dr. Smith suggests looking at the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) to find stationary activity centers that meet basic government safety requirements. According to its website, “To become certified, each product is sample-tested at an independent laboratory to verify it meets the highest standards for safety, performance and functionality.” We went and picked seven of the most stylish and practical, including a couple of portable stationary activity centers.
It’s available with the motif of The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, for the more literary types.
If you want to go even simpler, Dr. Hoffman recommends a pack-and-play, which does not move around. Dr. Smith also likes “good, old-fashioned belly time,” during which you simply place your child on their stomach and let them bob around to help develop their muscles and coordination. “They’re going to get as much out of a cardboard box as they will out of an expensive toy,” says Dr. Hoffman, “so I think not overthinking it and not worrying, just being a present parent and having lots of opportunity to engage the child in play,” is the best thing you can do for their development.
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