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Baby walkers

Baby walker buying guide

Last updated: April 2014

Getting started

The American Academy of Pediatrics would like walkers to be banned from the market, and Consumer Reports agrees. They can allow your baby to scoot into danger and fall down stairs, and may even delay development.

A much better option is to put your baby in a stationary activity center. If you want to encourage your baby to be more mobile, check out walk-around activity centers that let children move safely in a circle on a secure base. (See activity center types.)

Babies like to be in motion, and if you give them wheels you may be surprised at how fast they can zip around the house and into danger. Gary Smith, a professor of pediatrics at Ohio State University's College of Medicine, says babies can move 3 feet per second in a walker. Smith, who is also director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital, says he has treated scores of children who fell down staircases in their walkers, some of whom fractured their skull.

If you insist on letting your child use a walker despite the significant risk of injury, this buying guide explains which features are marginally safer than others.

One step at a time

A traditional walker, consisting of a molded plastic or metal frame with a suspended center seat and wheels attached to the base, gives a baby a quick way to get around before he can walk.

Walkers are designed for babies between the age when they can hold their head up and sit up unassisted (typically around 6 months) and when they begin to walk independently, usually by around a year, or reach the manufacturer's maximum weight limit, whichever comes first. (Weight limits go up to about 35 pounds depending on the model.) Make sure to check the owner's manual for specifics on any model you're considering. Walkers can keep a child entertained and let him follow you around the house, but in addition to the safety risks, they also raise concerns about a child's development. Despite the name, a walker lets a baby simulate walking but doesn't help her acquire walking skills. Indeed, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), walkers can delay normal motor and mental development. In fact, one study found strong associations between the amount of walker use and the extent of developmental delay.

Safety concerns

More important, walkers pose a significant risk of injury. "Kids this age are simply not at a developmental stage where they know how to handle that kind of mobility," says Smith, who is also the past chairman of the AAP's Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention.

Walkers manufactured before safety standards were updated in 1997 are most likely to cause falls. But even new walkers, including those certified by the Juvenile Products Manufacturer's Association, can be risky. A walker can turn over when its wheels get snagged, or it can roll up against hot stoves and heaters. Outdoors, they can cause children to fall from decks and patios, over curbs, and into swimming pools. These accidents can occur despite having safety gates either because the gate is closed incorrectly or because it can't hold up against the impact of a walker propelled by an enthusiastic baby.

A new safety standard was issued for walkers in 1997 to protect children against stairway falls. A walker should have a rubber friction strip on the bottom that should stop it from moving if its front wheels drop over the edge of a step, or it should be too wide to fit through a doorway that's 36 inches wide. The number of walker-related incidents declined significantly after that standard was introduced. Still, baby walkers that don't conform to this national safety standard continue to be used (given away or even re-sold) and recalled in the U.S. And in many homes, babies in walkers can easily get access to dangerous areas through large, open spaces or archways between rooms.

We don't consider any walker to be safe, and advise parents not to put their children in one. Our tests have found that friction strips don't always work, and they might wear out or come loose. We have not rated walkers for this report.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that in 2010, 4,000 children under the age of 5 suffered injuries related to baby walkers, jumpers, and stationary exercisers. (The CPSC does not separate walkers from jumpers and stationary exercisers in their data.) Between 2006 and 2008, there were four deaths associated with those products.

The AAP urges parents not to use baby walkers, and has long recommended that the U.S. government ban them. New and used baby walkers are already prohibited from being advertised, sold, or imported (even secondhand) in Canada. We agree that walkers pose a safety hazard, even those that meet the safety standard. The simple fact is that babies can move with surprising speed in walkers, and as long as the devices have wheels, no standard can make them safe.

The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) certifies certain walker brands, meaning that they meet voluntary safety standards. But that doesn't override the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics and Consumer Reports say that walkers are unsafe.

Features


Friction strips

They touch the floor when the wheels of a walker fall away on stairs or uneven pavement, making it difficult for a baby to push it farther. Most walkers that meet the voluntary safety standard have friction strips, but our past tests have found that they're not fail-safe.

Seats

Some seat covers can be removed and are machine washable. Seat height can be raised or lowered using a locking mechanism under the front tray or in the base of the walker, or by adjusters on the seat.

Toys

Most walkers have trays with rims. They often have toys attached, and some are equipped with lights and/or electronic sound effects.

Foldability

Some models fold flat for easy storage.

Lockable bounce feature

Some walkers also bounce, making them a combination jumper and walker. When your baby doesn't feel like bouncing, the seat can be locked in place. Since walkers are dangerous, if you want a jumping feature consider a stationary activity jumper with springs attached to the seat.

Shopping tips

We don't consider walkers to be safe, but if you still want to buy one, keep these shopping tips in mind:

Safety first

Select a model with a wheelbase that's longer and wider than the frame to ensure some stability from tipping.

Practice folding display models in the store

Make sure the folding mechanism works well and that there's no danger of pinching your fingers when unfolding.

Don't buy a walk-behind walker

Some walkers can be converted to a walk-behind walker, which allows babies to scoot around on foot by pushing the walker from behind. We consider walk-behind units dangerous because a baby could push the walker down stairs and fall with it. Avoid these models or simply don't convert them into walk-behind mode.

Get the right fit

Make sure your baby's feet can touch the floor when the seat is on the lowest setting.

Examine attachments

Look for small toys or parts that can break off or screws that can loosen. Toys and parts should be firmly attached and all parts should be smooth. Walkers have been recalled because of toys that broke or detached, posing a choking hazard, or toys that had sharp edges.

Safety strategies

Even with friction strips, a conventional walker isn't safe. If you want to let your baby stand up and play safely, consider a stationary activity center or jumper or a play yard instead. If you insist on buying a walker, register it online or by mailing in the registration card so the manufacturer can easily notify you in the event of a recall. And follow the rest of these safety tips.

Always keep an eye on your baby when she's in a walker. You'll need to be extra vigilant. Besides giving them speed, walkers can give babies access to things that would normally be out of reach, such as a pot on a stove or a heavy lamp waiting to be pushed off an end table. Here's what else you'll need to do keep your baby as safe as possible in a walker:

  • Use walkers only in rooms that have no access to stairs leading down. Don't use one in upstairs rooms if the walker can fit through a door opening, even if the walker has friction strips that are supposed to stop it from falling down stairs. Those strips are not reliable enough to guarantee your baby's safety.
  • Don't rely on friction-fit safety gates to keep a baby in a walker out of dangerous areas like a kitchen. A baby-propelled walker could knock the gates down. (See our safety gates advice.)
  • Don't use a walker around swimming pools and other water sources, unfamiliar pets, and roadways.
  • Clear objects off tables, counters, and stovetops that a baby in a walker might be able to reach, such as a letter opener or paper clips on a desk, a knife on the kitchen table, figurines or picture frames on bookshelves, or any other dangerous thing you have lying around that a curious baby might want to grab. Make sure furniture and electronics are securely attached to a wall using brackets, and keep cords out of your baby's reach.
  • Make sure any springs and hinges on the walker have protective coverings.
  • Don't carry a walker with your baby in it. It's too easy for you to trip.
  • Don't use a walker once your baby can walk or reaches the manufacturer's weight or height limit. Check your owner's manual.
  • Don't leave your baby in a walker for extended periods. Short stints--less than 20 minutes--are best.
  • Check the walker regularly to make sure it's not damaged or broken. Stop using it if it is. To assemble the walker correctly, consult the owner's manual and keep it for future reference.
  • If you insist on buying a walker, buy a new one. Used models are even riskier than new ones. Recalled models might still be in the secondhand marketplace.
   

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