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Friday, 21 June, 2002, 01:29 GMT 02:29 UK
Babywalkers 'stifle development'
Relying on a toddle-truck does not have the same drawbacks
Babies are keen to explore their surroundings
Babywalkers stifle the normal development of young children, research suggests.

The study found that those who used a babywalker were slower to crawl, stand and walk than children who were left to develop the skills naturally.

The researchers, from University College Dublin, say their findings indicate that parents should be discouraged from using the devices.

Walkers are used by more than 250,000 babies in the UK. However, their use is becoming ever more controversial, with a growing body of research indicating that they are bad for babies.

Babywalkers
A child using a walker does not learn to carry its own weight, says study
The new study focused on 190 healthy babies who were attending day care centres.

The parents were asked to record the age at which their child reached various developmental milestones including rolling over, sitting alone, crawling, and walking alone.

The more often a child used a babywalker, the more its development was delayed.

The researchers calculated that each 24 hours of babywalker use put back the moment that a child could walk unaided by 3.3 days, and stand unaided by 3.7 days.

'Significant delay'

Lead researcher Dr Mary Garrett, director of the University College Dublin School of Physiotherapy at Mater Hospital, Dublin, told BBC News Online that parents should not use babywalkers at all.

She said: "Parents use babywalkers because they think they will help to advance their child's development, but they do not - there is an association between their use and a significant delay in development."

Dr Garrett said the problem with babywalkers was that the child could move around without carrying its own body weight.

This meant that the muscles and bones did not gain in strength in the normal way.

It also meant that the nervous system was deprived of the sensory information required to learn how to walk effectively.

She said that if parents were intent on using babywalkers it was important that they fitted safety guards and locks around the home so that the risk of accidents was minimised as much as possible.

Mental tests

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapists supports a total ban on the use of babywalkers.

It says they are responsible for injuring 4,000 children a year.

It also argues that babywalkers disrupt the ability of children to develop walking and visual skills, and stop them from properly exploring their surroundings.

Research has also found that babies who had been in walkers did not perform as well in simple mental tests.

Retailer Mothercare, which sells babywalkers, said it had introduced non-tipping models to increase safety.

A spokesperson said the range was constantly being updated to take account of customer concerns.

The research is published in the British Medical Journal.

See also:

02 Dec 98 | Health
04 May 00 | Health
28 Apr 98 | UK
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