Are walkers and jumpers beneficial for your infant? I hate to tell you but the answer is going to be no!
When talking about walkers (see above), we are speaking of the ones with the seats in which your child is enclosed (these are actually banned in many countries because they can be dangerous for kids). Many believe that baby walkers help their children learn to walk and possibly even walk at an earlier age. However, this is generally not the case for several reasons. First, if your infant spends most of their first year in a walker, they are missing out on valuable floor time that encourages their muscles and joints to develop through attaining earlier motor milestones such as rolling, crawling, pulling to stand, and cruising. These are all important precursors to walking and allows the muscles and joints to develop so they can support the increased demands from walking. Check out our Developmental Milestones Blog Round-up for more information on all these milestones!
Second, in most cases the baby is not bearing full weight through their legs or is not bearing the weight in an optimal alignment. One example being, they may be touching the ground with just their tiptoes, which could lead to shortening of the Achilles tendon (the thick, hard tendon located at the back of your ankle) and calf muscles causing toe walking later down the line. Another example being, some baby walker seats cause the hips to remain in too much external rotation (turned outwards) which causes abnormal forces at the hip joint and can prevent the development of normal alignment throughout the entire leg. A baby is born with a natural bow to the leg in which the knees are pointed more outwards and the feet are more in towards midline. Weight bearing in correct alignment helps to straighten out this bowing. Some walker seats can interfere with this as well as change the mechanics of how they walk.
Third, walkers do little to enhance balance skills as the child can lean onto the support from all sides and doesn’t figure out how to support themselves in an upright position.
Now, a different type of walker you may be thinking of is one where your child pushes it in front of them while independently taking steps. This type of walker doesn’t interfere with weight bearing and can help improve balance and coordination as the child has to control the momentum of the walker and take steps at the same time. One thing it may interfere with is the development of a reciprocal arm swing and trunk rotation. However, if your child is delayed in walking it may be just the thing to build their confidence before they are able to take steps on their own. It may help them realize they can get from point A to point B on their feet and when they eventually start letting go, the arm swing and trunk rotation should come along in time. If you are looking for more ideas to get your little one walking, check out our pre-walker gross motor program!
One last thing to mention is jumpers where the baby can jump up and down with the aide of springy cables. These are lots of fun for the babies. However, the baby is most likely pushing off with their toes and therefore over using their calf muscles, causing shortening which could again lead to toe walking and tightness down the line. In addition, if the baby isn’t getting into and standing on their own yet then their hips are not developed enough to withstand the forces of the impact and it may cause problems down the line. We talk a little about this here. And, once again, the seats don’t promote optimal alignment for weight bearing.
So, while I rarely like to say don’t use something (I like to teach moderation) these are two that I just can’t get behind. Here is an activity table that I would recommend if you need a place for short stints for your little one. Also, if you follow #freethebabies on instagram there are so many solutions for ways to let your baby have freedom of floor movement while keeping them safe and ‘contained’. Here is the post we shared in the ‘How-to Edition‘!