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I have heard my whole life that the above mentioned types of toys delay walking and/or independent sitting (depending on the age they're used). I've even heard that they can hurt the infant's legs. I've never seen any research to suggest this is true and I'm skeptical, but it also makes me nervous about buying one for my son--even though he'd likely enjoy it at this age.

Is there any research, or even individual cases of it, that would suggest this is true? How about evidence to the contrary?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I did not find much against exerSaucers or jumpers, and both our pediatrician and the nurses at our childbirth class sponsored by our hospital had told us that both are fine. There are some people who have concerns about both, as is summed up fairly well by this post:

"Dr. Suzanne Dixon says, "Exersaucers...hold a child's hip extended, just as walkers do, which is not good if a baby spends a lot of time in them...Also, these devices, like walkers, prevent a child from seeing his feet. New data on walkers suggests that this lack of visual feedback hinders kids' learning from their own movements. However, Exersaucers and Supersaucers are better than walkers in that a child is more centered over his feet and less on his toes. He also has to work on balance a bit more...For infants with motor problems and atypical development, we sometimes use these devices as one part of a program to get a baby upright and to increase his muscle tone and strength in the trunk." ("Are Exersaucers and Supersaucers harmful for my baby's development? Pampers )

and Jumpers:

According to the Children's Hospital of San Diego, "Baby jumpers...promote movement patterns that are not useful in normal development including tiptoe standing and fast uncontrolled movements. The exercise your baby gets does not promote the development of trunk and leg control or the balance needed for walking. Additionally, it may limit time your baby spends on his tummy developing the valuable skills for crawling." ("Frequently Asked Questions," Children's Hospital of San Diego: http://www.chsd.org/167.cfm )

However, the concerns about excerSaucers and Jumpers seem to be much less common than concerns about walkers.

It seems that there are quite a few people saying not to use baby walkers. At one point, the American Academy of Pediatrics was even recommending banning their sale altogether.

Data from the AAP site used to form that recommendation:

  • According to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), an estimated 8800 children younger than 15 months were treated in hospital emergency departments in the United States in 1999 for injuries associated with the use of infant walkers.8 This represents a 56% decrease in these injuries since 1995, when 20 100 injuries were reported.
  • Thirty-four deaths associated with the use of infant walkers were reported to the CPSC during the years 1973 through 1998 (D. Tinsworth, personal communication, November 2000).
  • Population surveys suggest that there may be as many as 10 times more injuries that are sufficiently minor that they are treated in physicians' offices or do not require medical attention.
  • Parents report that walker-related injuries occur at some time in 12% to 40% of infants who use walkers.
  • A study of 65 Virginia children injured in walkers estimated the annual incidence of walker injuries resulting in emergency department visits to be 8.9 per 1000 children younger than 1 year. Severe
  • injuries occurred at a rate of 1.7 per 1000. Approximately one fourth of infant walker-associated injuries reported to the NEISS are described as "more severe," and these are nearly all fractures and closed head injuries. Skull fractures accounted for almost 10% of all walker-related injuries in one large series of patients.11

However, the improved labeling and testing laws appear to have made an impact in their overall safety. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, "There has been an 88% reduction in injuries from 1994 to 2008, which may be attributed to the addition of a stair fall requirement included in the 1997 version of the ASTM voluntary standard." It is important to note that this is the result of new safety standards which specifically address preventing the child from falling down stairs, so walkers made prior to 1997 are to be avoided, and even the new walkers do not address some of the other hazard concerns:

For example, babies who use baby walkers may:

  • Trip and fall over
  • Roll down stairs
  • Trap a finger
  • Be burned, poisoned or otherwise hurt after reaching for a dangerous object or falling into a pool or bathtub

As the Mayo Clinic says:

Even new baby walkers — which typically use brakes to prevent falls and are too large to fit through doorways — can still lead to serious injury. In addition, research shows that use of baby walkers can actually delay when a baby begins to sit, crawl or walk unassisted, as well as slow a baby's mental and motor development.

Don't allow your baby to use a baby walker and make sure that your baby's other caregivers don't use baby walkers, either. Instead, consider using a stationary activity center, play yard, playpen or high chair. These devices will allow your baby to play safely as he or she learns to sit, crawl and stand.

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Yes, jumpers can be bad. The important difference between your son holding on to your hands, and sitting in a jumper, is where the weight is placed:

When he's hanging from your hands, he's using muscles in all of his body -- from the hands and arms, through the back, to the feet. This is good.

When he's sitting in a jumper, he's effectively sitting down and doesn't have enough weight on his feet to learn much from it. This is not good.

Also, the seat surface of some jumpers (as well as baby carriers like these from Baby Björn is too narrow, allowing the legs to dangle straight down. This is also not good, because the hips are turned forward/downward, and gravity pulls the thighbones out of their joints. When sitting down, the thighs should not dangle.

Source: my physiotherapist wife.

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Do you or your wife have an opinion on the ExcerSaucer? It seems like it would suffer from some of the same problems as jumper. –  William Grobman Sep 1 '11 at 21:00
I don't have any personal opinion, but Beofett posted a summary of reputable sources in his answer. For what it's worth, I upvoted that. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Sep 2 '11 at 6:10

All the doctors at my children's pediatric office were highly against the use of walkers because children can become dependent on them when walking. I never used them. However I did use exersaucers and jumpers and that didn't seem to be a problem.

If your child can't really stand yet, then putting him/her in an exersaucer or bouncer might not be a great thing because it would seem to be uncomfortable for them and might hurt their legs if they can't hold their weight up yet. Exersaucers and bouncers don't really seem like learning tools to me, they seem like they are more of an activity to get your child to learn to play on their own. (Something I did if I needed to vacuum or do the dishes)

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If we hold him at the hips, our son can stand and support his trunk. I think he'd like it unless it provides less or different support than I imagine. –  William Grobman Sep 1 '11 at 16:20
It pretty much supports their bottoms like a chair. It's just that instead of having a hard seat for them to put all their weight on, it's a cloth seat that will support them but also make them work out their little legs too :) –  jlg Sep 1 '11 at 16:29

I've had to edit this reply heavily!!

There is a common thought that baby walkers can cause damage to the achilles tendon, which sometimes needs surgery to correct.

But there does not appear to be any research to support that. See, for example, this American Academy of Pediatrics report: http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics;108/3/790

This report is overwhelmingly negative about baby walkers, but only says this about tendon damage (and it doesn't really sound as if they're talking about tendon damage):

One study that evaluated children between 6 and 15 months of age demonstrated that walker-experienced infants sat, crawled, and walked later than no-walker controls, and they scored lower on Bayley scales of mental and motor development.16 At first, the unassisted gait of infants who use walkers may be slightly abnormal.2 There is no evidence, however, that such effects are lasting in typical children or that they have any impact on the child's ultimate motor development or intelligence.2,17

Here's an example of anecdote about tendon damage: https://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=2390942592&topic=4727

I am a Parent Educator with the Parents as Teachers program which is based on brain development research. Did any of your kids use baby walkers? That is a leading cause of toe walking. The reason is that their feet aren't flat on the floor, so only their tip toes reach, and they learn to be toe walkers. When children walk on their toes, their Achilles tendon (along the back of the heel/behind the ankle) isn't able to stretch out. The only way to correct it is through a very painful surgery in which the Achilles tendon is cut and then heals and then the children are able to walk flat footed. I hope this information helps. To anyone whose infants are starting to have this problem, PLEASE get rid of your baby walker! This is recommended by the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics).

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These are the sorts of things I've heard, but without a source it makes me wonder how much is just hearsay. –  William Grobman Sep 1 '11 at 17:18
Dan, I took the liberty to edit your comment into your answer. Feel free to edit your answer again! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Sep 1 '11 at 19:53

Anecdotal, common sense answer ... I am sure that they are fine as long as not excessively.

Common sense tells me that substantial walker use will delay standard mobility development, if for no other reason than the time the kid is in the walker scooting or in the jumper jumping is time the kid would spend on the floor trying to crawl or walk.

When my daughter was an infant/toddler, we had a "great room" with laminate flooring, and she loved being in the walker and being mobile. We used it in small doses, 10 minutes a few times a week, such as when we were cleaning the kitchen after dinner. Once whatever task we needed to do was done, she would come out of the walker and go back on the floor or in a playpen.

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