The great walking-ring debate

by | Mar 16, 2022

For decades, the walking ring was acceptable and used among my family and friends who had babies as I was growing up. I would watch them run across the floor. confidently taking their steps, and found that it encouraged these babies to stand up and walk on their own.

So I was shocked and confused when falling pregnant in 2021, to hear that the walking ring had now become a BIG “NO NO!” I started getting advice from other moms on the negative effects walking rings may have on kids and it got me curious to find out what exactly it is about the walking ring that sparks such a robust debate and why are there still two very different views on it.

 

THE CASE AGAINST WALKING RINGS – Excerpt from an article by Dr Melodie de Jager

Babies are born inquisitive. They want to touch and explore and as their eyesight expands to see further afield, so does their need to touch and explore what they see increases. 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 the 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 (1991. Infinity walk. New York), 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 fulfil 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 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.

Dr Heyns 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’.

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, 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 (http://cdn2.calorababy.co.za/baby/all-about-walking-rings.html). 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 (Injuries associated with infant walkers. Pediatrics. 108, No. 3 September 2001.) 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.

What makes baby walking rings particularly dangerous is:

  • 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
  • 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.

 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 (De Jager, M. 2014. Crawling / creeping: is it important. Johannesburg: BabyGym Institute).

 

THE CASE FOR WALKING RINGS – Anecdotal Advice from an Experienced Mom

At this point in my research, I felt it only fair to find an elder who had raised kids using the walking ring to find out if these scientific results had any obvious effect on her children. Mom of 3, grandmother of 5, Cathy Hendricks, former senior educator, had this to say.

“I think it’s important to note that a walking ring was never seen to be as a replacement for a caregiver or a nanny. In my day, a walking ring was a great aid to have as it assisted stay-at-home moms when they needed to free up their hands for short periods of times.

 I raised my 3 kids using a walking ring, as did friends of mine and my siblings. It was never seen as negative during our time and, to this day I cannot see any negative effects. In fact, in my opinion, the use of a walking ring awakened a sense of curiosity in my kids. They were eager and confident to explore things (with my supervision of course) and loved the freedom of being independent to move around as they pleased.

 Mathematically? 2 of my kids have grown up to be educators, one taking mathematics as a main subject. All have excelled at school and tertiary education.

 Emotionally? My kids have formed great friendship circles and have become social beings. 

 Physically? All my kids have excelled at sports even to the extent of competing professionally, Provincially and Nationally. 

 I guess it’s safe to say that I cannot see ANY negative developmental side effects from using the walking ring and it comes down to personal choice. Along with this choice is moderation as to when to leave your child in a walking ring or even when leaving your child on the floor to play or crawl.”

 

So, the big question is, if a walking ring poses such a big threat to babies, why is it so broadly sold in every baby store? I guess it comes down to one thing, PERSONAL CHOICE.

Each parent has their own parenting style and choosing whether or not to use a walking ring for your baby is YOUR choice. We’ve seen generations of kids who used the walking ring without long-lasting effects of any kind. We must also take into consideration, situations where moms may not have the means to have mats, blankets, toys or even sufficient space to have a baby placed on the floor while they work from home, let alone employ a nanny to attend to the baby.

Some babies also refuse to sit too long on their own, gets fussy and want to be able to move freely. Of course, if they aren’t able to walk or crawl properly yet, a walking ring gives them the freedom to trundle around after mom.

Doing my research for this article, opened my mind to both the pros and cons of using a walking ring. I personally believe its circumstantial and, as long as you remain cognisant of any potential dangers to your child, a completely personal choice.

 

Candice Manuel – aka Candashian, is a multi-award winning businesswoman, founder of Embrace YourCurves, a full-time Curve Model & the queen of BodyPositivity, changing the narrative for many plus-sized women. She is also a philanthropist and hosts quarterly non-profitable events in aid to better the communities in and around Cape Town. Candice is also known for being a radio presenter and an all-round media personality.
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