To Walker or not to Walker?

 In Babies

Is helping your baby to sit/walk actually helpful?

“Baby’s development is like the opening of a flower bud. It gradually unfolds,” wrote Marianne Hermsen-van Wanrooy poetically in the introduction to her foundation book, Baby Moves. “If we open its petals unnaturally, we interfere with the growing process and the flower becomes distorted.”

The recommendation that often surprises parents most is this: to forgo implements designed to contain or artificially support babies. Such implements include fixed-foam infant seats, walkers, jumpers and pillows used to prop infants up. 

While manufacturers of these “infant orthotic devices”, as I like to call them, make widely-accepted claims that such devices benefit babies by ”helping” them to learn to sit or to walk, these devices actually restrict an infant’s natural movements and alters their natural progression. These devices may also compromise the baby’s developing spine and neck and place aberrant stress on his or her joints, ligaments, muscles and bones.

Infants who are placed in these devices may frequently also be deterred from receiving the correct sensory input at the right time and this may result in altered motor output and altered movement patterns that could follow them as they grow and develop. Research shows that walkers in particular, can cause developmental delays, altered movement patterns or at the very least do not help the child. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Mary Week, clinical coordinator of physical therapy at Children’s memorial Hospital in Chicago, states, “No equipment enhances a child’s motor development.”

Motor development takes time, and the struggle of learning to sit and walk actually plays a big role in strengthening them and building healthy motor patterns for life. It is a process that must be allowed to gradually unfold, rather then be forced or “helped along”. On average it takes an infant 12-18 months to be able to walk. Instead of trying to speed up this process, I encourage you to rather celebrate the micro-milestones, as well as the big ones, once the child has reached them on his/her own.  

Adapted from Pathways to Family Wellness 2019, “Building Your Baby from the Ground Up” by Chris LoRang, D.C.

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