Where I live, we still have something called a walking ring or walker, and up to date therapists have had much debate regarding the use of one. Walking rings are actually banned in Canada, and for good reason. There is a safety concern around a walker, which brings babies to a height at which they might be able to reach objects on counters, touch stoves, pull things onto themselves, or tip over, sometimes even down a flight of stairs. No only for the safety concerns, they too are really bad for physical development and motor skill acquisition.
Have a look at the images in the post before and after reading this. Initially you see smiling, happy babies, but after reading the post, have a good look at everything other than the smile!
So here it is, my list of the problems I find with Jumparoos/Walking Rings/Exercaucers:
1) the seat is often quite rigid and too wide for babies' hips causing them to bend outward at an angle. They then weight bear through this position with low muscle tone and weak ligaments, causing them to stretch and you end up with stiffness when moving the leg in other directions because some ligaments are then shortened and some lengthened. Add the force of bouncing on these joints in a Jumparoo and you make things infinitely worse. The muscle tone is not ready to support the joint and the ligament and this can cause improper development seen when a baby begins to crawl and walk. The way they coordinate the gait and the movement of the hip, knee and ankle can often be abnormal, and they tend to 'lock' the joints as a compensatory technique caused by a lack of strength and support.
2) the absence of looking at their own legs and feet. We use all senses to learn to move and walk. If you cannot see your feet and legs, how do you develop what we call a body 'scheme'? A baby explores with his body through vision and touch. We aren't born with an understanding or even acknowledgement of our limbs - the further away the body part, the longer it takes us to understand its existence and purpose. It takes practice and exploration through touch for a baby to develop his understanding of his body. Not using vision to develop a motor skill will often end in a sensory compensation technique - where he will seek input in the legs and feet through other means, in order to improve his body awareness. Some children will not compensate for this and will struggle with body awareness, being quite clumsy and uncoordinated for some time. It is almost impossible for a child to adequately learn to stand or walk with no visual input from their legs or feet, much like expecting him to tie his shoelaces for the first time with his eyes closed.
3) the height of the 'floor' in relation to the baby - since all babies are different heights, you either get babies learning to stand on their toes (and then the same thing happens to ligaments as i mentioned in point 1), or their feet are placed flat and the arches of the foot, which are not ready to develop, and then receive more pressure than they can and the foot develops with limited arches and this results in poor flexibility of foot muscles. The sole needs full support from a dense surface, which is why a pillow is not supportive enough, and a hard, flat surface only provides support to some areas of the sole. A child who stands on their toes will have overdeveloped, tightened calf muscles and can often develop toe-walking, a habit I have learnt takes many months to break since it is a physical problem with the legs and a sensory problem with the feet. Much like my previous point, the sole receiving pressure allows us to develop an understanding of what it is and its purpose. Receiving that input but limiting it to our toes will cause a problem with our awareness of the rest of the foot, and therefore improper use of the foot when standing or walking.
4) the support and posturing - I often explain to moms that our bodies work on a demand and supply basis. If there is a need for muscles of the trunk to develop, they will. We would be born with a full set of well-developed muscles if this wasn't the case! If you have a look at babies who are in hospital for extended periods of time, they lack basic skills like head control, because there is no actual demand for this to develop when lying flat in a bassinet and receiving support when being held and fed. In a supportive seat like the seat in a Jumparoo or Exersaucer (which often comes way above the hips and even supports the middle), the body receives the message that there is enough support and the muscles do not need to develop yet, despite demanding strength and control from the legs. The seats force the pelvis into the wrong tilt and without trunk control their bodies are forced forwards with the back and neck arched in order to maintain an upright position of the head. Having his trunk forced forwards against the seat limits any movement of the arms in order to reach or grasp a toy. The low muscle tone also means that the vertebrae do not receive adequate support in this position and extended use can cause spinal deformities and abnormal posturing. Limiting activation of the tummy muscles stops him from developing postural control - a basic strength that we need to do absolutely everything. It is often most evident in children who start going to school and are expected to perform fine motor skills like writing or cutting. Keeping an elevated posture is hard work for these children and they end up rocking and swinging on classroom chairs and constantly fidgeting, all due to a lack of postural control.
5) the lack of interaction with the rest of the environment - babies in an Exersaucer/Jumparoo are only able to play with the toys directly in front of them, most of which, in these devices are electronic and have one simple purpose. Should something captivate your baby just outside his exersaucer/jumparoo, how will he be able to interact with it since it is now out of reach? You inhibit normal movement and normal exploration, and his desire to crawl and move to fetch a toy is then lost. I often see children with no motivation to crawl or transition from one position to another, like moving from sitting to standing, because when placed in his exersaucer, everything is done for him and there are no demands placed on him to do things for himself.
As in most cases, there are babies who may actually develop faster or normally in these. There are also babies who develop slower because of them. And then there are babies who develop abnormally and have serious problems caused by them. Each baby is different. What we don't realize is that babies don't need these gadgets to develop, yet parents rely on them to keep the baby busy so that they can do laundry or cook or tend to other children, and the media provides an unrealistic idea that your baby will be actually be advantaged whilst in these. It's not that way at all.
Babies need furniture to pull themselves up into standing, to hold while cruising, to fetch toys they want. Make your living room a safe place and let your baby go wild by putting toys everywhere you can and getting him to fetch them.It saves you a lot of money not buying these and your child will be better off for it. If you do intend to use one in order to cook dinner or do laundry, 15-20 minutes in them wont harm your baby, but doing this more than once or twice a day is going to have an impact on their development, and it becomes easier and easier as time goes on to let them spend more time entertained in them, rather than entertaining them yourself or allowing them to move on their own, which is definitely bad for them and hinders their development.
Parents should play with their babies more, and use gadgets far less. Let them move on their own, let them explore, and don't fall into the trap of letting the entertainment stations do your job as a caregiver!
If you have a look at the images after reading this, what do you notice about the posturing and leg position of the babies?
Ive edited this post to add a section for parents who are still dead-set on using an exersaucer. This isnt me advocating for one or saying that you should get one - this is me suggesting when and how to use it if you are going to do so anyway. I really hope that you will consider this advice.
Since I pointed out that being in an exersaucer or jumparoo takes away the motivation for a baby to crawl and perform transitional movements (sit to stand, sit to crawl, etc.), I would strongly suggest waiting until your child is a well established and active crawler. Once he has started crawling, he has shown that his hips and legs are quite strong and move within a wide variety of ranges. His muscle tone has developed greatly, and allows his joints to be stable when he is positioned in 4-point kneeling, or the puppy position of crawling. He also should, by now, have adequate trunk strength to keep himself upright should you support him at the hips or hands, but cannot yet coordinate pulling himself up to stand or hold himself in a steady standing position to play without your support. This is a gap where, instead of you supporting his hips so he may play in standing, he can use an exersaucer to stand and play in a safe and secure way without needing your support.
However, if he is placed in here too often and crawling time is neglected, the impact lies on his shoulder strength and bilateral coordination of all limbs, something that can be evident when he is older and fine motor skills are in high demand. If placed in these devices too long, it will also delay his ability to pull himself into standing or to stand and hold the furniture and cruise along it, since he will not have the opportunity to practice these from within the device. Once he has learnt to crawl, you should ideally place toys on higher surfaces, just out of his reach, to encourage him to stand up to retrieve them on his own. Limit exersaucer time to when you are truly busy and cannot support him. From my personal perspective, this is the only gap at which I see no abnormalities or serious delays arising if baby is placed in an exersaucer, but like always, moderation is still a must.
Another recommendation, which mamaOT.com has also made, is to use the toys of the exersaucer, and the exersaucer itself, as a surface which baby can use in place of a table, and play with from outside - not sitting inside the exersaucer. Many moms have asked if they can adapt their devices to make them better - and I strongly encourage this if you are going to use one. All babies are different shapes and sizes, which makes it hard for manufacturers to ensure children will not develop abnormally when using these. Please feel free to email me with photos of your baby inside one of these devices if you would like my assistance or advice in altering or adapting it to prevent complications if you are still going to use one.