Q: Our 6-month-old son is active and eager to explore. He seems frustrated that he can't get around on his own. He often cries for toys that are out of reach. We'd like to put him in a walker, but our pediatrician says not to. What do you think? Wouldn't he learn more and end up smarter?
A: Walkers are dangerous. Babies ride them down stairs or off porches. They tip them over into water or onto fireplaces or furnace grates. Each year, 35,000 children are brought to emergency departments with walker-related injuries, and 7,000 of those injuries are serious. Walker injuries often involve the head or neck sites where there is likely to be severe and permanent damage. Even though walkers may be entertaining, the risk is too high.
Babies do not need a walker to learn to walk. Walking develops naturally and is not speeded by a walker. In fact, in some cases, walkers may be detrimental to learning to walk.
What can you do for your impatient son? Keep plenty of safe and interesting objects within reach. Help him to change locations frequently. Spend plenty of time playing with him and talking to him. His development depends much more on your loving attention than anything else.
Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.