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Babyproofing Basics

You shouldn't wait until your child starts crawling to think about babyproofing your home. Chances are, he'll become mobile almost overnight, and you will be caught unprepared. The trick to adequate babyproofing is not to assume that your infant sees everything the same way you do. He's operating on an entirely different level-floor level. To really take stock of your home's dangers, then, you've got to take a crawling tour. Here's a rundown of the more common household hazards and how to remove them from your infant's path.

Bathtub. Never leave your baby unattended in the tub, even for a minute. She can drown in as little as an inch of water. To prevent scalding, set your water heater at 120° F. or lower, and never position your baby within reach of the faucet. Cover the faucet head with a specially made soft cover, and lay down nonskid strips to help prevent your child from slipping.

Cabinets. Babies can create havoc and get into danger by exploring cabinets, especially those in the kitchen and bathroom. Move all potentially poisonous substances and sharp objects into locked cabinets. Better yet, purchase childproof safety latches for all the cabinets in your home-regardless of what they contain.

Cribs. As soon as your baby starts trying to pull himself up, move the crib mattress to its lowest position and remove all objects (including mobiles, crib toys, bumper pads) that he could climb up on to get out of the crib.

Drapery and blind cords. These pose a strangulation hazard, since babies can become entangled in them. Tie them up and out of your baby's reach.

Drawers. Keep them closed so your baby can't reach up and pull them out on top of herself.

Electrical cords. Infants can chew on cords and wires or pull on them, bringing down lamps or other heavy objects on their heads. Move all cords well out of your child's reach.

Electrical outlets. Babies can get a shock by sticking their fingers (which may be wet from saliva) or objects into plug outlets. Unless outlets are behind heavy furniture or up high and inaccessible to your little one, close them off with safety plugs or with safety covers that snap shut when the outlet is not in use.

Entertaining. After parties, immediately empty ashtrays and glasses-leftover cigarettes and alcoholic beverages can be toxic.

Flooring. Make sure area rugs are secured with nonskid backing, and repair loose tiles, linoleum, and carpeting to prevent tripping.

Furniture. Unstable wall units, dressers, bookcases, or tables can topple over on babies who try to climb up on them. Have wobbly furniture repaired, or bolt questionable pieces to the wall.

Garbage cans.Cans containing garbage, especially those in the kitchen, tantalize infants but are filled with potential hazards, from sharp can lids to chicken bones to plastic bags. Keep garbage inside a latched cabinet or on a high counter, or use a pail that has a secure locking mechanism.

Houseplants. Some are poisonous; if placed on the floor or a low table, they can topple onto a curious baby who pulls at the leaves. Keep them out of reach-for instance, by suspending them from the ceiling in plant hangers.

Knickknacks. Small curios are choking hazards; heavy ones can be pulled and fall onto a baby. Place them out of his reach on a mantel or high bookshelf.

Pet supplies. Move dog and cat food dishes off the floor and out of reach of your crawling child when they're not in use. And when your pet is eating, move your baby to another area of the house, lest she decide to join her pal for dinner. Also, find a place for cat litter that's inaccessible to your child, and position aquariums well out of reach and on a sturdy structure that a curious climber won't topple.

Small appliances. Never position your baby's highchair within reach of kitchen appliances or their cords. In the bathroom, unplug and put away hair dryers, electric razors, and curling irons. Even when turned off, appliances can electrocute if still plugged in.

Sharp-edged tables. Babies can bang into the pointed corners of coffee tables, end tables, and dressers. Cover these edges with cushioned strips or padded guards to protect your crawler.

Stairs. Prevent your baby from tumbling down stairs by fastening gates with vertical slats or plastic meshwork-not the old accordion-style gates-at the top and bottom of the staircase. To give an older baby steps on which to practice climbing, attach the bottom gate three steps up from the floor.

Stoves. Cook only on the back burners, since pots placed on the front burners-and their scalding contents-can tip over onto an unsuspecting child. Buy knob covers or remove stove knobs when not in use, and add a stove guard to keep liquids from spattering.

Tablecloths. Babies like to yank on tablecloths, pulling down breakable dishes, glasses, and sharp knives. Use place mats instead.

Toilets. Infants are intrigued by toilets, but a curious peek could cause them to topple in headfirst. Buy a toilet lock that will prevent your child from opening the lid when his curiosity takes hold.

Windows. Babies can climb on furniture and tumble through open windows (even with screens in place). After watching Mom or Dad, they may even open windows themselves. Install window guards or secure windows so they can't be opened more than three inches. Move all potential "climbing" furniture away from windows.

Babyproofing your home isn't enough, however-you also need to practice constant vigilance to keep your little one safe. Never leave your baby alone for even a minute unless he is in his crib or playpen. Be extra alert in the kitchen and bathroom, which are prime places for accidents. You might consider installing a latch high on the outside door of the bathroom-which contains many dangerous and tempting items, such as cosmetics, hair spray, nail polish, and medicine-so it can be kept locked when not in use. Be extra watchful during stressful times of day, like dinnertime, when accidents are more common. Keep emergency numbers, including that of your local poison control center, posted near the telephone in a visible spot. Once you start being sensitive to all the hazards in the home, you'll notice things you've probably not thought of before. For example, it's important not to leave buckets of water around, even with small amounts of water in them. In addition, don't use pillows, comforters, or other soft bedding in the crib.

Once you've made your home safe, and made yourself aware of the risks to your child, it's important to just relax and let your little one explore. Only by being given the freedom to investigate his surroundings can your baby truly learn and grow.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.