When Can You Relax on Safety Rules?

You take every precaution with your baby or toddler -- but eventually, you've gotta take a deep breath, ditch the rules, and trust that your child will be just fine.

Baby & Toddler Rules

I have a friend who still cuts her son's grapes in half, even though he's in kindergarten. Another supervises her daughter in the bath even though the girl knows how to swim. And I'm already wondering when I can take the rails off my 3-year-old's bed. We all know the rules for keeping our children safe. But when is it okay to finally give them a rest? In some cases, it depends on your child's age, but often it hinges more on her individual development and skills. Each kid is different, and what one child is doing at age 1, another might not do until age 2. If you're not sure whether your child is ready for something, don't rush it. There's no downside to being supercautious.

Rule: Put your baby to sleep on her back

To help prevent SIDS, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends putting your child to sleep on her back until she's a year old. If your baby can flip over before that, you don't have to go in her room to turn her onto her back. But you should still wait a year before actually putting her down in her crib on her tummy.

Rule: Support your infant's head

Your baby should gain head control between 3 and 4 months. "You can start taking your hand away once he begins lifting his head when he's lying on his belly," says Parents advisor Ari Brown, MD, author of Baby 411. At first, it's a good idea to "spot" him by keeping your hand just an inch or two behind his head to prevent injuries.

Rule: Avoid blankets and other bedding

You can use a receiving blanket to swaddle your baby right away. But because of the risk of SIDS, you shouldn't use any soft objects or loose bedding while he's sleeping until he's at least a year old. After that, pediatricians have different opinions. Some say you can start using a blanket and a firm pillow. Others recommend that you wait until your child is 2, just to be safe, and use pajamas with feet or a sleep sack on cold nights in the meantime. You want to make sure that your child is able to pull things off of himself if he gets hot or tangled. If he can undress himself, that means he's got this motor skill down. Since toddlers rarely stay under the covers anyway, it's often best to wait and introduce a blanket once your child graduates to a big-kid bed.

Rule: Buy baby laundry detergent

Some children have sensitive skin and need special soaps and detergents for several years, or even forever. But many do fine with adult formulas right away and never need special brands. Start by testing one piece of clothing to see if your baby's skin reacts. However, pediatricians say that even babies with sensitive skin don't necessarily need baby brands. Perfume- and dye-free adult detergents work just as well and let you wash everyone's clothes together.

Rule: Skip peanut butter

If you have no family history of food allergies, some pediatricians say you can let your child try peanut butter between 12 and 18 months. If your family has a history, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology recommends waiting until age 3. "By age 3, the gut has completely formed, making it more difficult for the allergen to be absorbed and trigger cells in the immune system," says Christopher Randolph, MD, a pediatric allergist in Waterbury, Connecticut. However, because kids usually don't outgrow a peanut allergy -- and it can be life-threatening -- some allergists and pediatricians recommend that all kids avoid PB&J until age 3.

Rule: Serve whole milk

Once your child turns 2, it?s time to switch to skim or low-fat milk, because he no longer needs that extra fat for brain development. However, the AAP currently doesn't specify whether you should move right to skim, or to 2 percent or 1 percent milk first. And doctors have different ideas about what's best. The most important thing is to make sure your child drinks skim milk after age 5, says Robert Baker, MD, a pediatrician in Buffalo, who's on one of the AAP's nutrition committees.

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