5 Reasons to Ditch Exersaucers, Jumpers, and Baby Walkers
Do you have an exersaucer, jumper, or baby walker at home?
These pieces of baby equipment are in most homes and are on most baby registries. (If you haven't downloaded my free registry guide, make sure to check out what you actually need - and don't need!)
In fact, our society makes it seem like these are essential, and the marketing on these containers add to confusion, claiming...
- "Designed in collaboration with a pediatrician, our baby activity center supports a "whole body" approach to play and learning."
Skip Hop Explore & More Baby's View 3- Stage Activity Center
Problem with this: They are actually ignoring the effects excessive standing can have on an infant's "whole body".
- "Reaching, turning and stretching are all a part of your child’s development. "
Problem with this: Standing containers actually significantly limit the amount of reaching, stretching, and turning that a baby does.
-The standing jumper helps build babies develop motor skills like coordination, rhythm, strengthening muscles, and improving balance.
Jolly Jumper Super Stand
Problem with this: There is no research to support any of these claims, and overuse has been shown to cause excessive tightness in certain muscles which reduces coordination and balance.
- Watch as your baby bounces up and down with complete freedom of movement.
Jolly Jumper Super Stand
Problem with this: Jumpers are containers, which by design limit freedom of movement.
-The baby walker is ready for your baby to buckle up and have fun while learning to walk!
Baby Joy Baby walker
Problem with this: Baby walkers actually inhibit the skills needed to learn to walk.
Just like so many other baby products being sold, these standing containers are not essential for baby’s development, and they can actually be detrimental depending on the situation.
As a pediatric physical therapist, one of the first things that I do when I meet a new client and family is talk about the truths associated with all of the baby gear that is so heavily advertised. Families come to me looking to promote their baby’s development, so knowing how this type of equipment can affect their baby is a huge part of educating parents.
Before you go and put your infant in one of these standing containers, I'd love to explain the risks associated with using them and highlight the facts so you can make an informed decision. For this blog post, I’m referring to all the standing containers that puts baby in a sling seat, but allows for some weight bearing through the legs. These include ALL TYPES of exersaucers, jumpers, and baby walkers.
1. They don’t teach baby how to stand or walk.
This is one of the biggest myths I have to bust. They are all advertised as a way to promote baby’s standing and walking skills. And you might think that’s true because it puts baby in an upright position.
But that is NOT how baby learns to stand walk. Since baby is positioned in a sling seat, baby is actually sitting more than they are standing. And if baby’s feet are touching the ground, baby tends to bend and straighten their knees as if they are “jumping”. While this looks cute and fun, this is not teaching baby’s muscles how to work together to learn how to stand independently.
Because of the sling seat, baby’s core muscles (think abdominals, gluteals, and trunk muscles) are turned off. And those core muscles are absolutely essential for a baby to learn how to stand and walk. In fact, those are the muscles that get stronger when a baby crawls on all fours. We need those muscles to be strong to be the foundation and stability for when baby is ready to be upright.
If containers don’t teach a baby how to walk – what does?
Letting baby move freely around the room is what teaches baby how to walk. Babies move through developmental milestones in a general order for a reason. All of the skills prior to standing and walking all prepare baby for taking those first steps. Tummy time, rolling, sitting, reaching for toys, crawling on all fours, pulling to stand at the furniture, and cruising around the furniture all are preparing baby’s body for independent standing and walking.
Is your baby struggling with some of these foundational skills? Make sure to check out my online course!
2. They can cause atypical movement patterns like toe walking.
Alright so we know that they don’t help promote standing and walking, but are they really all that bad?
Well, they can be. Depending on how baby is positioned, spending time in standing containers can encourage baby to learn atypical movement patterns.
Let’s think back to that “jumping” baby (it’s important to note that baby can “jump” in an exersaucer and baby walker too, not JUST jumpers.) When baby is “jumping” in a container, baby is bearing most of their weight on their tip toes, and their calf muscles are firing over, and over, and over again. Those calf muscles can get strong and tight.
Then, when baby is out of the container and goes to stand, those calf muscles are used to being “on”, so baby automatically goes up on tip toes. And if those calf muscles become tight, then baby can’t get flat footed. This is problematic for the long term, can delay development, and can seriously impact baby’s alignment and integrity of their muscles.
*Important note: All babies go through a short phase in development when they first learn how to pull to stand where they practice going up on toes. The problem only occurs when baby is OBLIGATED to be up on toes, and can’t come back down to flat feet, or baby does not transition out of that short toe walking phase.
3. Too much time in them causes too much stress on baby’s body.
One of the biggest issues I see when parents put their baby in these containers, is that they are putting their baby in them when baby is way too young, and is not ready to be standing yet. Unfortunately the "recommended ages" for these containers are as young as 4 months old, per the advertisers.
Like I mentioned before, babies move through the developmental sequence in a general order for a reason. Each milestone allows a baby to practice skills and strengthen parts of their body that are needed for the next milestone.
While all babies develop at a different pace, there are general ages that are appropriate for extended time in upright standing due to the developing bones and spine of the baby. If a baby does not have the appropriate core and leg strength, then putting baby in an upright standing position for extended time will only cause undue stress on baby’s spine and joints.
So if baby is not even sitting independently yet, then baby should NOT be placed in one of these standing containers. Even though it has a sling seat, baby will slouch and fall to the side and be unable to hold themselves upright, putting too much stress on their spines. Even babies who are stronger sitters may not have the hip and leg strength to support themselves when “standing” in containers. They will compensate by moving their bodies in different ways, putting stress on their low backs, hips, knees, ankles, and feet.
How much time is too much time?
You’ll probably get different opinions depending on who you talk to. Some say no more than 20 minutes a day total, some say don’t use them at all. I say, if you are going to use them, then be very mindful.
I recommend the following:
Avoid using them every day.
Limit use to 5-10 minutes at a time.
If baby is not yet sitting independently, avoid use.
If your baby is delayed in development or developing atypically, then discontinue use.
4. They are containers which don't allow for free movement.
The floor is the absolute best and only place that baby learns correct motor development. There is absolutely no other contraption or environment that is better than the floor.
If baby is in any way inhibited by their environment (say by a container), then that absolutely affects their decision-making skills, their initiation of movement, their quality of movement, and their frequency of movement.
When it comes to physical development, our main goal should be allowing our baby to explore their environment freely (and safely), and no container allows this to happen.
5. Baby walkers should be recalled.
I don’t quite understand how baby walkers are still being sold. They are inherently dangerous, and babies can and have gotten seriously injured in them.
It doesn’t matter how much you think you are watching them, or how careful you think you are being. It only takes half a second for that walker to fall down a flight of stairs, tip over, or for someone (person or animal) to run into the walker and flip it over with baby inside.
The risk is much greater than the “convenience” or “cuteness”.
Hopefully I’ve just saved you a ton of money and space in your home by not buying these expensive pieces of equipment!
If you've been using these with baby already - not to worry! You can make a different decision tomorrow if you want. There's no reason to feel guilty for using products that are on the market which are advertised as helpful. Therapists and parents learn new information every day, and we can only make our decisions based on the information we have at the time.
Gina Mydlo, PT, DPT
Are you wanting to learn more about your infant's development and how to promote it using realistic strategies that will fit into your routine? Make sure to check out my online course!