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Consumer Reports - Walkers

A walker is a mobile seat and frame that lets babies propel themselves across floors and other level surfaces. The typical age range for walkers is 6 to 15 months--after the baby can sit up unassisted...

A walker is a mobile seat and frame that lets babies propel themselves across floors and other level surfaces. The typical age range for walkers is 6 to 15 months--after the baby can sit up unassisted but before the baby is walking.

Some researchers claim that despite their name, walker don’t help babies acquire walking skills any faster than babies who don’t use them. And many experts have expressed concerns about the safety of walkers: They can fall down stairways; flip over if wheels get snagged; and roll your baby into stoves, heaters, or other indoor dangers. Outdoors, walker can fall over curbs or into swimming pools. Safety gates may help prevent such accidents, but they’re no guarantee. Many accidents involving walkers occur despite the presence of safety gates--either because the gates were latched incorrectly or they didn't hold up to the impact of the walker.

A voluntary safety standard was created for walkers in 1997. To comply, a walker must either be too wide to fit through a standard doorway or have safety features such as a rubberized friction strip on the bottom that stops the walker if its wheels drop away at the edge of a step. The number of walker accidents has declined considerably since the safety standard took effect. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics continues to urge banning their manufacture and sale. If you just have to have a walker for your child, the physician group recommends that you choose one that meets the voluntary standard, which was last updated in 2000.

WHAT'S AVAILABLE

The major brands are Baby Trend, Chicco USA, Delta Enterprise, Graco, and Kolcraft. Also called “mobile entertainers,” walkers come in various shapes--circular, rectangular, square, and even styled like a car. They typically have four to eight wheels. Price range: $30 to $70.

HOW TO CHOOSE

Key differences. Most of the manufacturers that meet the voluntary standard have opted for the friction strip on the base. But this is not a failsafe design. Even a certified model may still pose a safety risk.

Recommendations. Consider safer alternatives such as a stationary activity center. It offers equal or better play value than a walker, and it is far safer. What it lacks, of course, is mobility—a walker’s main attraction. If you decide to buy a walker, consider the layout of your home. If you're concerned about keeping your baby in a room with standard doorways, choose a model with an extra-wide base. Even if a walker has a friction strip, consider using it only in a room with no access to stairs leading down.

A walker should be used only on flat, horizontal surfaces. Make sure the area is free of dangling cords and other objects that could cause the walker to tip over. And don’t use walkers near sources of heat, such as a stove, or near swimming pools. For proper fit, both of your baby’s feet should touch the floor or ground when in the walker. Never let a baby in a walker out of your sight. Examine any toys attached to the walker. Rule of thumb: The toys should be too large to fit through the tube of a toilet-paper roll (about 1 3/4 inches in diameter). Also check for small parts that could break off, and make sure all screws are properly tightened.

Finally, limit the time your baby spends in the walker to about a half-hour at a time. This should give your baby plenty of opportunities to crawl and engage in other physical activities.

Certification. A certification sticker on the walker's frame or packaging indicates that the walker meets the minimum requirements for the voluntary standard of the American Society for Testing and Materials and that its manufacturer participates in the pass/fail certification program administered by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association. Some walkers also are labeled as meeting new ASTM safety standards for steps and stairs, or as meeting new ASTM standards for walkers.

Copyright © 2002-2006 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc.

For the latest information on this and many other products and servicesBusiness Management Articles, visit www.ConsumerReports.org.

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