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Baby walkers and jumpers - developmental help or hindrance?

Baby in walker

Nowadays, parents are bombarded by toys, baby aids and equipment and knowing what toys to introduce is becoming more and more important. “Your baby’s brain is developing so much in her first 1000 days and the way the brain fires and wires is determined by environmental stimulation or lack thereof. Any toys which interrupt normal developmental patterns should be carefully considered.

As your baby becomes more interested in moving, you may be considering buying him a fun baby jumper or using a walking ring to help him learn to stand and walk. These toys or baby aids are quite controversial and lead to heated debates on their efficacy and whether one should be using them or not.

To help you make an informed decision about which side of the fence you and your family sit on in this debate, Nubabi Occupational Therapists, Lourdes Bruwer and Carly Tzanos weigh in on the topic – are baby walkers and jumpers a developmental help or hindrance?

Will a walking ring help my baby learn to walk?

The short answer is no. If you are looking to help your little one take her first steps, then this is not the baby aid for you.

Here’s why…

  1. Walking rings could cause a baby to spend less time engaged in the vital and very important milestone of crawling on all fours! Crawling properly on all fours has many benefits and decreased time spent in this necessary milestone may lead to issues with fine motor skills and bilateral skills (such as tying shoelaces or cutting) later on.

  2. Walking rings keep your baby’s head in one plane of movement and thus limit the vestibular or movement information that he receives. “Your baby needs to experience movement with his head in various planes so that the 3 semi circular canals, responsible for receiving movement information and sending it to the brain, can all be stimulated,” says Tzanos. A mature movement sense will help your baby’s balance centre to develop. This will impact walking, running and jumping.

  3. Too much time spent in walking rings may impact the way your baby’s visual perceptual skills develop, especially their spatial perception and depth perception. These form the foundation for maths concepts, writing, the spacing of work and sports skills later on.

  4. Many babies use their toes to propel themselves forward in walking rings. Walking develops in a more heel-toe movement, which is different to what is happening when a baby is in a walking ring. There are many little muscles in their feet which need to stretch, bear weight and be exposed to various textures. When they are propelling themselves in a walking ring, only their toes receive this input. There is no evidence to suggest that babies who use walking rings walk any earlier than those who don’t. In any case, walking at an earlier age, instead of spending more time crawling, will limit the amount of time they spend consolidating the many benefits of crawling.

Will a baby jumpers jump-start development?

No, again we’re afraid. Similar to walking rings, baby jumpers limit the amount of time in a tummy lying position, crawling and moving through space with their heads in a different plane. What developmental issues do baby jumpers potentially pose for babies?

Baby in Jumper

  1. Baby jumpers can add strain to a baby’s developing spine, hips and knees. “All their weight is carried between their legs, leaving their legs dangling straight down. It is preferable for any carrying aid to position a baby’s legs in a bent position with their knees slightly higher than their bottoms. In this way, their weight is more evenly distributed, and the pressure on their spines is less.” Says Tzanos.
  2. When a baby is crawling or moving around on their tummy, or being bounced by mommy, their muscles are balanced with some stretching while others are shortening. This coordination of stretching and flexing encourages the correct posture to develop as well as helping them to refine their movements. “If a child is supported incorrectly, it may cause some of their muscles to become tight and others to shorten. This can lead to poor posture while sitting, walking and running” noted Bruwer. Because typical patterns of movement may become uncomfortable babies may revert to atypical movements to compensate for this inflexibility.

While walking rings and baby jumpers may seem like great activities, be aware that research has shown that the risks involved in using walking rings far outweigh the potential benefits. Children who use walking rings frequently tend to walk later than those who don’t. When your baby is in a walking ring or a baby jumper, he cannot see his legs properly, and his weight is supported incorrectly. Being able to see his legs and feel his weight through his flat feet is most beneficial in learning to walk. Your baby needs time on his tummy to learn to crawl. By putting him in an upright moving device, your baby will be less motivated to crawl on his own. Crawling at a young stage is far more beneficial than walking.

Safety first

Apart from developmental concerns, there are some safety hazards which walking rings and baby jumpers pose.

  • In a walking ring, your baby can move freely to and reach tables, plugs, hot objects and stairs. If choosing a walking ring, look for one with a wide base of support, a sturdy non-detachable seat and wheels that cannot pinch toes and fingers.
  • Baby jumpers can fall off their door hinges, or older siblings may be tempted to push their baby brother or sibling too hard into the door frame. Exposed springs can pinch little fingers or toes. If little ones do not have enough postural stability or are not fastened securely, they can tip out. Babies heads are proportionately much heavier than adults, which makes them “top heavy”.

But sometimes, you just need a break!

There are times when we parents just need an extra pair of hands so that we can get supper made, brush teeth or simply get dressed. Bouncy chairs, playpens, walking rings and the like can offer us some much needed time to get to tasks that on some days simply seem impossible. While there are other options to keep a little one occupied, these may require some forethought and planning, and frankly, that’s not always possible.

As with most toys and gadgets, moderation is the key and putting your little one in a walking ring or baby jumper for a limited time in the day could translate to a less stressed, happier mommy, which translates to a less stressed, happier baby!

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