Is a walking ring a no-no?

Emotional development
February 19, 2018
What do eye movements tell us?
March 28, 2018

By Dr Melodie de Jager

Babies are born inquisitive. They want to touch and explore and as their eye sight expands to see further afield, so does their need to touch and explore what they see increase. But they first need to get there, and to get there, they need to be mobile. Oh the sheer frustration when a baby wants to go but his body says: not yet!

It is the moaning and groaning born from frustration of immobility that encourages many parents to reach for a walking ring (or baby walker) because an upright baby is a happy baby. And the bells and whistles are so entertaining and developmentally sound. A walking ring must be a good thing. But is it really?

MOANING MOTIVATES BRAIN DEVELOPMENT

According to Dr Debra Sunbeck[i] moaning and groaning stimulates brain growth because ‘the brain is an infinite reservoir of potential that lies dormant until you develop a need’. The brain responds to a baby’s persistent enthusiastic need to move by creating just the right neuro-chemical pathways to fulfill the desire to move. These pathways prompt muscles to develop in a specific sequence: head control, rolling, sitting, grasping, crawling, pulling up, cruising and finally walking.

A baby tends to start the moaning, groaning and struggling from a very early age but it tends to peak around 6 months just as baby’s brain develops the intricate neuro-chemical pathways for crawling. Their frustration levels increase because it is very hard work for a baby to coordinate two arms and two legs and then to lift the entire body off the ground and move forward.

Click to see a clip of a baby working really hard during Tummy Time. Make sure your sound is on, you want to catch every little grunt and moan that brave little Jacob Silbermann utters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_U1k4xioTAI&feature=youtu.be

Dr  Heyns[ii], a Cape Town based paediatrician, says ‘the sequential coordination of a baby’s muscles and his mental capacity is closely correlated to parallel this development’.

 You didn’t learn to walk just because you were at the right developmental stage to stand up and walk. Your desire to get across the room, to run into your mom or dads embrace, or play with your sister or brother, charged you up with an intense enthusiasm to learn how to walk – Dr Debra Sunbeck

 

STRUGGLING STRENGTHENS

When a baby is placed in a walking ring:

  • he misses out on the struggle-to-strengthen phase needed to develop muscle strength and coordination to become mobile
  • he may skip crawling altogether and
  • even walk later.

According to paediatrician, Dr David Geller[iii], studies have shown that babies who use a walking ring may actually learn to walk about a month later than those who don’t, because walking rings allow babies to move around before they are physically ready for it. He continues to say that when a baby skips the developmental steps leading up to walking, it can cause unusual movement patterns and delayed muscle control. Usual movement patterns and muscle control develop when babies watch their feet while learning to walk and understand how their feet and legs move. Most walking rings have a tray that prevents babies from seeing what’s happening with their feet, and without this visual and proprioceptive feedback, unusual movement patterns develop which may delay muscle development.

LEGAL STEPS TO BAN WALKING RINGS

The Canadian government passed a law in 2004 to prohibit the sale and advertisement of new and second hand walking rings[iv]. The driving force behind this law was that walking rings were responsible for thousands of accidents involving babies that could have otherwise been avoided. The American Academy of Paediatrics[v] also advises against using walking rings not only because they can discourage a baby from learning to walk on his own, but also because walking rings can be dangerous. The article continues to say: ‘thousands of babies end up in emergency rooms and doctor’s offices from falling down stairs or bumping into furniture while in a walking ring’. The European Child Safety Alliance and ANEC supports the ban on walking rings with a joint statement that reads that in many European countries, baby walkers (walking rings) ‘are linked to more injuries than any other type of nursery equipment, causing an unacceptably high number of severe falls, burns and scalds, and poisonings[vi] [vii]

What makes baby walking rings particularly dangerous, is:

  1. the baby’s increased mobility at a speed of up to 1 metre per second at which the baby moves uncontrollably across the room, putting them at a risk to fall down stairs; tip-over on uneven flooring; violent collisions with objects and
  2. due to the raised height babies in walking rings are also more likely to reach and pull down objects such as electric appliances, hot drinks, or chemicals.

Many European organisations have called for bans on baby walking rings due to the level of risk and injury they pose, combined with their lack of tangible benefit or necessity[viii]. 

BENEFITS OF NATURAL DEVELOPMENT

Movement is so much part of everyday life, that it is very easy to take it for granted. It is equally easy, and may even have quite serious consequences when we overlook the importance of the role of movement in learning to read and to write many years later[ix].

To move appropriately is a sign of development – Mollie Davies

  • It takes 50 000 repetitions of a specific movement (like crawling or walking) to wire the brain
  • A baby who only does 1028 steps a day needs to work for 48 days to be just as developed as a baby who takes 3198 steps in only 14 days. In orther words an active baby is a developing baby!
  • 30 minutes of exploration time = the physical exertion of a two-hour aerobic workout
  • energy used by ‘new walkers’ is the equivalent of a marathon (42km) every seven days
  • ‘new walkers’ average 13 185 steps and 90 falls a day – a daily travelling distance of 39 football fields.

TIME IN A WALKING-RING DETRACTS FROM TIME SPENT CRAWLING

What one also needs to consider is time in a walking ring detracts from time spent crawling on all-fours and we all know we want every single benefit that crawling has to offer our little ones:

  • Active crawlers  are building healthy bones. Physical activity is important for building healthy bones, and provides benefits that are most pronounced in the areas of the skeleton that bear the most weight.
  • Physical development progresses from top to bottom and from the inside out. That means the hips and legs need to develop sufficiently with (weeks and hopefully months of active crawling) before the feet are ready to bear weight in the upright walking position. Putting a baby in a walking-ring detracts from time on all-fours, leaving the shoulders and hips with less opportunity to work and strengthen before the feet take the lead.
  • When baby spends his waking hours playing unhamperedly on the floor there is ample opportunity for the spine to develop from the space saving in-utero c-shape to the ideal s-shape needed for a beautiful upright posture. When a baby is placed in a walking-ring there is less opportunity for the spine to change shape and for the skeletal muscles to strengthen which may result in poor muscle tone and posture.

You might also like “Will any crawling style do

There are so many toys and contraptions available that it can become difficult and even overwhelming to know when you are supporting your baby’s development and when you are hampering it. A good ‘rule of thumb’ is to ask yourself “can my baby get into that position (or contraption) all by him or herself?” If not, they probably are not ready developmentally, nor physically, for that position.

WHAT BABYGYM CAN I DO TO ENCOURAGE MY BABY TO WALK?

  • If baby is crawling but not yet pulling himself up, place him in a kneeling position in front of a low but sturdy object. Raise the one knee and put the foot flat down on the ground. Keep his knee straight above his ankle and gently lift baby in such a way that it will shift his weight onto his foot. Slowly raise baby into an upright position so his weight is on both his feet. Repeat a few times over a couple of days, till baby has developed sufficient muscle memory to know how to do it on his own.
  • Push toys, kiddies’ strollers and cooler boxes provide superb opportunities to practice walking while comforting baby with the idea that he is still being
    supported by the push or pull toy, stroller or box.
  • If you are in doubt, rather ask for help and guidance from a professional person such as a neuro-developmental physiotherapist or an occupational therapist with SI (sensory integration) training, or visit www.babygym.co.za for a BabyGym Instructor near you.

Raising your little one is teamwork, you don’t need to know everything, you just need to know who to ask.

[i] Sunbeck, D. 1991. Infinity walk. New York: Infinity Press.

[ii] http://www.dr-heyns.co.za/blog/2012/03/08/baby-walkers-are-they-good-or-are-they-bad/http://www.dr-heyns.co.za/blog/2012/03/08/baby-walkers-are-they-good-or-are-they-bad/

[iii] http://www.babycenter.com/404_will-baby-walkers-and-jumpers-help-my-baby-learn-to-walk_6878.bc

[iv] http://cdn2.calorababy.co.za/baby/all-about-walking-rings.html

[v] American Academy of Pediatrics. Injuries associated with infant walkers. Pediatrics. 108, No. 3 September 2001.

[vi] Emanuelson, I. How safe are child care products, toys and playground equipment? A Swedish analysis of mild brain injuries at home and during leisure time 1998 – 1999. Injury Control and Safety Promotion 2003, Vol 10, No. 3, pp. 139 – 144.

[vii] Petridou E; Simou E; Skondras C, et al. Hazards of baby walkers in a European context. Injury Prevention, 1996, 2(2),118 –

120.

[viii] Health Canada. Board of review inquiring into the nature and characteristics of baby walkers. June 2007. Available online at: http://www.hc-sc-gc-ca/cps-spc/child-enfant/equip/walk-marche/overview-apercu_html.

[ix] De Jager, M. 2014. Crawling / creeping: is it important. Johannesburg: BabyGym Institute.

[x] De Jager, M. 2012. brain development MILESTONES & learning. Johannesburg: Mind Moves Institute.