A baby in the house tends to mean a lot of gear—but a baby walker shouldn’t be part of your collection. Baby walkers have been banned in Canada since 2004, though some parents aren’t aware of the ban, or try to get around it by bringing a walker over the United States border. Here’s why baby walkers aren’t safe.
Picture a plastic base with wheels on the bottom and a fabric seat suspended inside. You put your little one inside, and their legs go through the leg holes in the fabric seat so they can stand and walk themselves around independently. They are generally used for babies aged four to 15 months, when they can sit up but can’t yet walk on their own.
Health Canada banned baby walkers in 2004, and for 15 years before that, major retailers had agreed to respect a voluntary ban. Under the ban, you can’t buy a new or used baby walker in Canada, and people who already own one are advised to dismantle them and throw them out. If you sell, advertise or import a baby walker, you face a fine of up to $100,000.
The federal government banned the walkers because of the danger they pose—babies just don’t have the skills, reflexes or cognitive ability to safely use them. One of the main concerns was head injuries, as babies tumbled down stairs while in the walker. In other situations, babies were tall enough in the walkers to reach potentially dangerous objects that were otherwise out of their reach (like a tablecloth with a mug of hot coffee on it). Other dangers included soft tissue injuries, burns, poisoning and fractures. You might think that you would diligently watch your baby to make sure they didn’t get injured, but little ones got hurt even while supervised by an adult, because the walker allows them to move faster, up to a metre per second.
While baby walkers are still available in the U.S., the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has repeatedly called for them to be banned because they are unsafe. “Throw out your baby walkers,” it said in a 2008 statement. “Also, be sure that there are no walkers wherever your child is being cared for, such as child care centres or someone else’s home.” A September 2018 study published in the medical journal Pediatrics found that more than 230,000 children younger than 15 months between 1990 and 2014 were brought to an emergency room to be treated for walker-related injuries. Ninety percent had head or neck injuries, including skull fractures.
Though some people think a baby walker will help their infant learn to walk, it isn’t true. “There’s really no evidence out there at all that they help a child’s development. In fact, there’s some evidence that they may delay development,” says Gail Kirkwood, a physiotherapy clinical specialist in paediatrics. Walkers allow babies to be mobile before they have the core strength and balance they need for cruising and walking, she explains. The walkers force your baby to push with their feet and legs, but don’t let them practise movements that will help them with the stability they need for independent walking. Plus, for every chunk of time spent in a walker, that’s a chunk of time the baby isn’t working on essential motor skills that help them progress to walking, like crawling, pulling themselves up to stand, cruising, reaching down and getting up from the floor, she says. Stationary activity centres without wheels, used for 20 minutes or so at a time, or stand-up push toys for older toddlers, are safe when used under supervision, as long as you're following the age requirements.
If your kiddo has progressed through crawling or bum-scooting and you’d like to gently encourage walking, there are a few things you can do, says Kirkwood. “Set them down in a standing position, with [soft] furniture they can hold on to,” she says. “To motivate them, put some toys to the side so they have to take a few cruising steps. Give them tons of praise, too! If a child has a fall early on when they’re learning those skills, their confidence will be lower, like any of us with a new skill.”
And like any new skill, walking takes practice. Don’t worry if it takes a little while—your baby will be toddling around independently soon, and then life will never be the same!