6 May 2012, by Tan Yi Lin
Okay, someone please tell me that I’m not a bad mum for doing this:
I PUT MY BABY IN A WALKER.
Yes, you know – one of those little chairs on wheels. To many of us who were born in and grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, this would probably have been how we learnt to walk, according to our parents. Walkers were the norm then – we played in them, were fed our meals in them and well, walked in them.
These days, it’s a different story altogether. There is clear resistance on the part of medical experts and professional websites, such as the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP), against putting an infant in a walker. After reading it all, I felt that I MIGHT AS WELL HAVE PUT A HEX ON MY BABY AND WISHED HER ILL.
According to one of the links on the AAP website, walkers are a recipe for danger and accidents, such as:
– Rolling down the stairs
– Getting burned. A child in a walker may be able to grab things that were previously out of his reach, such as hot drinks on a table, pots on a stove, etc.
– Drown, by falling into a pool or bathtub
– Be poisoned, by reaching chemicals and medicines placed on higher ground
The website highlights that walker injuries happen despite the baby being under close adult supervision because parents or caregivers cannot respond quickly enough. Apparently, walkers are such dangerous objects that the AAP has called for a ban on the manufacture and sale of baby walkers with wheels.
I know – it all sounds so doomsday and so grim, doesn’t it? I can’t deny that it’s not a fair call. Given all the injuries that infants in walkers are susceptible to, it’s better to be safe than sorry. In fact, it’s near impossible to find a store – mainly those selling western brands of baby products (e.g. Mothercare) – that still carries walkers. I’ve only seen walkers on display at local chains such as Kiddy Palace and the friendly neighbourhood HDB shop.
So why do we still put Coco in a walker?
This is why:
Coco is FIXATED on walking.
As I mentioned before she doesn’t want to crawl. Walking is her greatest ambition of the moment.
From a seated position, she will forcibly push back against us in an effort to get up onto her feet and then, supported by us, determinedly march off in her desired direction. When being carried, she pushes away from us, twists 180 degrees so that she faces away, then straightens her legs, arches her back and pushes downwards to signal that she wants to stand.
As much as it’s a pain to have to deal with her insistence on walking 3,493 times in a day, I have to give credit to this little girl for grasping the concept – and act – of walking to a ‘T’. She’s hits the ground heel first and then transfers her weight to her toes; she lifts her legs to cross raised barriers; and climbs stairs upright like an adult (Please excuse the proud mama here while I gush a little. Thanks.)
Deny her her freedom to move and suffer the wrath of her furious cries.
Yes, her demanding behaviour may come across as being rather spoilt. But I cannot find it in my heart to deny her her desire to explore the world beyond her play pen. What should I do? Refuse to pick her up? Refuse to set her down? Insist that she crawl? Distract her with activities other than walking? Yell at her to stop crying? Leave her to cry?
Sure, I could try to do all that – if I were her sole caregiver. But I’m not. My aunt comes over to look after Coco every weekday afternoon while I’m at work. She is nearing 70 years old. Although she is incredibly active and fit for her age and is still working on part time, it’s hard to ignore the fact that she is ageing. She highlighted that it was getting too tiring to support Coco on her walking expeditions around the house, or to fight against this baby’s fixation on walking. She repeatedly mentioned buying a walker, which would give Coco the freedom to move around on her own, while providing relief to my aunts aching arms and back.
Again, what do I do? Insist on not using a walker? Quit my job and look after Miss Feisty myself?
While I was dithering over the pros and cons of walkers, my aunt just went out and GOT ONE HERSELF. Man. Is feistiness genetic?!?!
So now my baby’s in a walker. I wasn’t concerned about the safety aspect – or rather the lack of it. I knew Coco was in good hands and under very close supervision at all times. I had the utmost confidence that her caregivers would not let any harm befall her. Plus, walkers nowadays come with brakes and have wider bases to prevent them from fitting through most doors.
But the warnings of medical experts nevertheless filled my head: Her leg muscles weren’t going to be well developed. She was going to have weak legs. She would be bow-legged. She would not be able to walk without the aid of a walker. Her development was going to be delayed. I imagined this bunch of medical elders frowning down upon me, shaking their fingers in my face and tut-tutting me for being an ignorant, negligent and unfit mother.
The AAP’s advice wasn’t particularly helpful either: “Throw out your baby walkers!” it exclaimed.
No, really, I couldn’t. How could I? My aunt and uncle (who is past 70) insisted that it was a gift from them, for Coco. Anyone who can bear to throw out a heartfelt gift must have heart of stone.
So we compromised.
Coco can use the walker, especially when she’s feeling particularly independent, energetic and adventurous, and needs to let off some steam by toddling around the house. This would give my aunt – and all Coco’s other caregivers (even us!) – a much needed break. The recommended maximum usage for stationary bouncers, “exer-saucers” and “jumperoos” and the like, is 30 minutes at a go. So we’re applying this guideline to Coco’s time in the walker – not that she willingly stays in it for 30 minutes anyway. A few minutes in it – and she wants out already.
Also, everybody would have to make sure that Coco was still spending a sufficient amount of time on her play mat – be it seated or lying on her tummy – to encourage her to move around (and hopefully crawl) without the use of walker.
We would also continue to support her on her walking tours of the house, outside of the walker, to help her develop and strengthen her leg muscles and let her practise her balancing skills.
So. Yes. I put my baby in a walker.
But I am confident that the measures that we are taking to manage the potential health and safety hazards are enough to prevent Coco from falling into danger (pun not intended!) Plus, if feistiness is a genetic trait, then hopefully straight and strong legs are too, for neither Dan nor I, nor our siblings, are bow legged, weak legged or still moving around with the aid of a walker, despite our parents’ affinity for babies on wheelies in the past.
Our greater challenge that lies ahead is not whether or not people are going to judge us for using a walker. It is training our little walking tourist to get down on all fours and CRAWL.
Why our fixation in encouraging, enticing and bribing (i.e. everything short of forcing) her to crawl?
For the answer, tune in to the next entry, coming up soon.