Before we dive into why infant walkers, exersaucers and jumpers should be avoided, let’s define them!
A walker is a device with wheels and a sling seat for your baby. This device allows your baby to move around, using his legs, before he has the ability to balance and stand independently.
An exersaucer is a stationary device with a sling seat in the middle. The seat usually rotates so that your baby can engage in a variety of fine motor/sensory toys around the perimeter.
A baby jumper is a sling seat that attaches to a doorway or metal frame via a strap with a spring. Your baby can sit in the sling and use his feet on the floor to bounce up and down.
These all sound fun right?!?!
I won’t lie to you, most babies LOVE these devices. Walkers, exersaucers and jumpers allow your baby to be upright and mobile before he can do it on his own. This is pretty fun and novel for a baby.
I will also come clean, and let you know that I have let my daughter use both an exersaucer and a baby jumper before…
GASP! I know!
That said, as a physical therapist, I am really not a big fan of using these types of standing devices and I will explain why.
I am also not a proponent of using infant seats, for similar reasons. I won’t be discussing infant seats in this article, but feel free to check out this post for more information!
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10 REASONS TO STOP USING INFANT WALKERS, EXERSAUCER AND JUMPERS
This one mostly applies to infant walkers. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, infant walkers are associated with increased prevalence of infant injuries.
Baby’s that use infant walkers are very mobile and can move very quickly. This can lead to an increased frequency of baby’s falling down the stairs, with resultant head injuries.
Infant walkers are also associated with a greater risk of burns and poisoning. A baby in walker can move quickly and reach up to hot surfaces, and to “out of reach” toxic items not intended for a baby’s ingestion.
Even with supervision, infant walkers are known to cause increased risk of injury because of how fast a baby can move in them. For these reasons alone, I would recommend never ever, EVER using infant walkers.
2. Poor Posture/Body Alignment
Walkers, exersaucers and jumpers also promote a very unnatural posture in babies.
Typically, the sling part of the device separates a baby’s legs and externally rotates his hips further than what would be typical with standing. These devices also often lead to increased hyperextension of a baby’s spine, locked knees, and standing on tiptoes.
We want to promote normal posture and weight bearing as much as possibly to ensure the natural progression of development.
3. Impaired Balance
Using any of these types of standing devices can impair a baby’s development of balance.
The promotion of poor posture in walkers, exersaucers, and jumpers can contribute to balance deficits. A baby can also just hang on the sling for support instead of practicing balance. This can delay the development of balance.
4. Muscle Imbalance
Again due to the abnormal alignment and weight bearing facilitated by exersaucers and related devices, muscle imbalances can result.
The most noteworthy muscle imbalance is caused by weight bearing through the balls of the feet from being up on tip toes in these standing devices. This leads to increased development of the calf muscles and decreased development of the muscles in the front of the lower leg and ankle. In some cases, this can even lead to toe walking in children.
5. Delayed Gross Motor Development
Walkers, exersaucers and jumpers are actually very confining and limit the natural development of movement. The more time a baby spends in a device that holds him up in a sling, means less time spent practicing gross motor development skills.
There is a correlation between babies that spend lots of time in walkers, exersaucers and jumpers and the delayed mastery of crawling, standing and walking independently. The fact that these devices lead to poor posture, impaired balance, and abnormal muscle development further contribute to the delay in normal gross motor development.
For more information on gross motor development, check out this post.
ARE WALKERS, EXERSAUCERS, AND JUMPERS EVER OK???
So maybe now you’re starting to stress, because the exersaucer was the only thing that helped you get dinner on the table?!?!
I hear you mama.
Some physical therapists may disagree with me on this, but I would argue that exersaucers and jumpers are probably ok if used infrequently for short periods of time. Your baby will most likely be just fine if you put him in the exersaucer for 10 minutes while you take a quick shower.
That said, do NOT use any of these devices with babies that are unable to sit up on their own. For more information about this topic, check out this post.
Also, if you own an infant walker, just throw it away. Don’t use it “only on occasion” and don’t donate it - that’s bad karma right there.
Toss the infant walker - they are just too dangerous and detrimental.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD OF USING INFANT WALKERS, EXERSAUCERS AND JUMPERS
Lets talk it out…
1. Give your baby lots of free time on the floor.
The more free time on the floor you can give your baby, the better. This will allow your baby to explore his body and troubleshoot mobility skills in the most natural way.
Tummy time is the number one best gift you can give to your baby to develop his mobility skills. Tummy time is a great core workout and lays the foundation for all the other physical development skills down the line - rolling, crawling, sitting, standing, walking.
Click here for some great tummy time ideas!
2. Utilize play pens and baby gates.
So maybe you need longer than 10 minutes to complete a chore and you want to make sure your baby stays safe?
Create a safe space that your baby can move freely and safely throughout. I would still recommend supervising your baby in the safe space, but this will give you a little more wiggle room to send that work email or get dinner started.
We have this baby gate in 3 different doorways in our house, so that our daughter can safely move around in a large, yet contained safe space within our home. We also had these attractive yet durable floor tiles on the living room floor to give our daughter a soft landing space with her many, many losses of balance, as she learned to roll, sit, stand and walk.
3. Use a baby carrier.
Do you have a baby that never wants to be put down?
I feel you.
And you’re right...the above ideas won’t work very well if you have a baby that likes to stay close to mom and be involved in the daily activities. My daughter was the same way, and at almost 2 years old, she still likes to be a part of everything.
If this sounds like you and your baby, then carriers can be a huge help when you really need to get things done around the house. I relied heavily on carriers during my maternity leave, to garden, to clean up around the house, and prepare meals.
Check out this post to make sure you pick a hip healthy, safe and comfortable baby carrier!
4. Play with exersaucer from the outside.
You can still let your baby play with the exersaucer and utilize the toys on it for fun.
If your baby can independently weight bear through his legs, let your baby stand on the outside of the exersaucer to play with the toys. Your baby might even enjoy cruising around the exersaucer to access all the toys on its perimeter, which is a great precursor activity to walking.
5. Bounce baby on an exercise ball.
If you are sad to see the jumper go because your baby loves to bounce, try an exercise ball/birthing ball instead!
Your baby can be on his belly, sitting on it, sitting on your lap on it, or standing on the exercise ball. Make sure you are providing the needed support to your baby and to keep the ball in place, then give your baby a fun, bouncy ride!
My daughter loved to bounce both for fun and for soothing. This affordable and durable exercise ball has been an all time favorite of ours!
6. Use household items for walking practice instead.
Well we have already established that infant walkers, exersaucers and jumpers do NOT help with skills like walking, but rather hinder gross motor development. That said, maybe you are wondering what can be used instead?
If your baby seems motivated to walk, a play table like this is great for cruising around as a first step towards walking.
My daughter loved this play table! As she got bigger, it was lightweight enough that she could even push it around the living room for walking practice.
You can also let your baby push a light weight chair, a cardboard box, or a laundry basket to practice walking with a little bit of upper body support.
3 TAKE HOMES
1. Remember, the best thing you can do for your baby’s development is to give him regular tummy time and lots of free time on the floor to explore how his body moves.
2. If you must use the exersaucer or jumper once in a while for a short window of time, it probably won’t negatively impact your baby’s development.
3. THROW OUT YOUR INFANT WALKER
So if you are a mom that has been using an infant walker, an exersaucer, or a jumper, don’t panic!
Just start implementing the tips above to ensure your baby develops his gross motor skills appropriately!