What should we avoid to best help an infant’s motor development?
In a word: Devices.
Infants do not need any devices, including floor seats, jumpers, exersaucers, pillows, walkers, curved bassinets, or push devices. Such devices are Infant Orthotic Devices, or IODs. Though these things are often thought to “help” a child, they are counterproductive for their developing bodies. Unless a baby can get into a position or movement completely on their own–like sitting up or walking on two feet, they should not artificially experience this position through the aid of a device. If this happens, the child will receive sensory input from that device and their brains will begin to learn how to move and be in relation to that device instead of independently, with stability, coordination, and strength intact.
When a child lays, sits, jumps, or walks with the artificial support of a device, their child’s motor patterns develop with dependencies, and perhaps deficiencies, that could affect their future movement and comfort in their bodies. Research shows that infant walkers in particular can cause developmental delays, altered motor patterns, or at the very least do not help the child. 1-5
Evidence Against The Use of Infant Orthotic Devices (IODs) (Specifically Walkers):
- “No equipment enhances a child’s motor development….”6
- “Because data indicate a considerable risk of major and minor injury and even death from the use of infant walkers, and because there is no clear benefit from their use, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a ban on the manufacture and sale of mobile infant walkers.”7
- “… babywalkers are associated with delay in achieving normal locomotor milestones… The use of babywalkers should be discouraged.”1
- “… usage… can delay the acquisition of independent walking and disturb the normal gait pattern in normal children so it is highly recommended stopping baby walker usage and educate parents and health professionals about its hazards.”2
- “A disharmonic and delayed motor development, contractures of the calf-muscles and motor development mimicking spastic diplegia are considered to be caused by the early use of infant walkers.”3
- “… for some infants the excessive use of babywalkers alters the pathway of normal locomotor development.”4
- “Current data available in the literature is not enough to prohibit using baby walker[s]; however, it suggests no advantage of the walkers in child development. This issue must be noticed more by researchers…”5
Nevertheless, manufacturers of infant orthotic devices continue to make widely-accepted claims that such devices benefit infants by “helping” them learn to sit and walk. Remarkably, infants don’t need any help in this process and by “helping” them with an IOD, we may be altering their natural progression.
Garrett M, McElroy AM, Staines A. Locomotor milestones and babywalkers: cross sectional study. BMJ : British Medical Journal.
Marian Magdy Shafeek and Emam Hassan El-Negmy, 2016. Effect of Usage of Baby Walker on Acquisition and Pattern of Independent Gait in Normal Children. Trends in Medical Research, 11: 76-81.
Engelbert RH 1, et al. Influence of infant-walkers on motor development: mimicking spastic diplegia? Eur J Paediatr Neurol. 1999;3(6):273-5.
Crouchman M. The effects of babywalkers on early locomotor development. Dev Med Child Neurol. 1986 Dec;28(6):757-61.
Badihian S, Adihian N, Yaghini O. The Effect of Baby Walker on Child Development: A Systematic Review. Iranian Journal of Child Neurology. 2017;11(4):1-6.
Deardorff, Julie. “Therapists see no developmental benefits from seats.” Chicago Tribune, March 15, 2012, Chicago, Illinois. (https://www.chicagotribune.com/living/ct-xpm-2012-03-15-ct-met-bumbo-posture-20120315-story.html).
Injuries Associated With Infant Walkers, Committee on Injury and Poison Prevention, Pediatrics Sep 2001, 108 (3) 790-792; DOI: 10.1542/peds.108.3.790.